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Tuesday, June 24
Updated: June 25, 3:24 PM ET
Smith will play left tackle for first time this season

By Len Pasquarelli

Despite having never played a single NFL snap at left tackle, the Steelers weren't afraid to make a financial gamble on Marvel Smith.

Marvel Smith

League sources confirmed that the Steelers have signed Smith, who has started 40 games at right tackle but will move to the blindside protection position in '03, to a new six-year contract worth $26 million. The accord includes a $6 million signing bonus.

In terms of so-called "new money," the contract means about $25.4 million for Smith, who was entering the final season of the four-year, $3.2 million contract that he signed with the Steelers as a rookie in 2000. Smith was scheduled to earn a 2003 base salary of $621,250 under his previous contract. The new contract pays Smith a $500,000 base salary in 2003 and a roster bonus of $500,000.

The contract, which is essentially a five-year extension, will push Smith's salary cap charge for 2003 to $2.3 million-$2.5 million. That represents a major increase from the previously scheduled cap charge of about $1.2 million.

In securing Smith's services for the long-term, the Steelers continued their recent trend of signing key veterans to extensions, a year or two before their contracts are set to expire. Almost as important, the contract graphically illustrates the confidence team management and coaches have that Smith will make a seamless transition to the critical left tackle job.

That spot was manned the past four seasons by Wayne Gandy, who signed with New Orleans, after the Steelers made just a lukewarm effort to retain him. The plan all along by the Pittsburgh coaches was to count on Smith, who moved into the lineup toward the end of his rookie season and has now started 36 consecutive games at right tackle, to align on the left side.

The team clearly feels the former Arizona State star, who certainly is built more like a left tackle, possesses the footwork and pass protection skills to afford Tommy Maddox a comfort level in the pocket.

Another key element: Despite three full seasons in the league, Smith won't turn 25 years old until August, and locking him up for six more seasons means the Steelers won't have to worry about the crucial left tackle position for a long time. While he has played well on the right side, the organization feels he will blossom at left tackle, a spot some feel is his more natural position.

Oliver Ross and Todd Fordham, the latter signed as an unrestricted free agent early in the spring, will vie in training camp for the starting right tackle job.

Smith played left tackle for nearly three seasons in college and some teams projected him there in the 2000 draft. The Steelers chose Smith in the second round and he actually started in that year's opener, becoming the first Pittsburgh offensive lineman since 1969 to start in his NFL debut appearance.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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