Smith signs, can be free agent again after '07 season

Six-year veteran defensive right end Justin Smith, designated by the Cincinnati Bengals as a franchise player before the start of the free agency period, on Tuesday signed the one-year tender, guaranteeing him a base salary of $8.644 million for the 2007 season.

Smith is the third of the NFL's seven franchise players to sign a contract. New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant recently signed a seven-year contract with a maximum value of $63 million, including $20 million in guarantees. Last week, Seattle kicker Josh Brown signed a one-year tender for $2.078 million.

"I'm fired up and ready," Smith said in a press release. "I'm glad we got this done. It's time to get back with my teammates, get in some good offseason work, and make this a great season for the Bengals."

The Bengals may attempt to negotiate a long-term extension with Smith before the mid-July deadline for doing so. There has been speculation, however, that Cincinnati officials will just allow Smith to play under the one-year tender for 2007, given the steep price of such deals at the defensive end position. The Bengals signed left end Robert Geathers to a pricey contract extension during the 2006 campaign.

Without an extension, Smith could be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.

Smith, 27, is a steady if unspectacular player who was the team's first-round selection in the 2001 draft. While he may never play up to his status as the fourth overall prospect chosen that year, Smith is a solid and durable two-way player who has led Bengals' linemen in tackles for each of the past five seasons.

The former Missouri standout has appeared in 95 straight games, all starts, and missed just one contest, the season opener in his rookie year. His absence in the opening game that year was because of a protracted contract negotiation, with Smith not signing until the eve of the first game.

For his career, Smith has 388 tackles, 41½ sacks, seven forced fumbles, five recoveries, two interceptions and 15 passes defensed.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.