Quarterback Akili Smith, the third player chosen overall in the 1999 NFL draft and viewed eight years later as one of the most monumental busts in recent draft history, has signed a two-year contract with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.
Smith, 31, has not played in two years, since struggling in a stint with the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe. His last job in the NFL was with Tampa Bay in 2005, but he was released in the spring.
"I've got a lot of football left in my tank," said Smith, who has been working in the real estate business in San Diego the past two years. "I am fortunate and blessed as far as my finances are concerned. I just have a burning desire to play football. I'm here trying to win the starting job."
Smith will compete for the top job with CFL veteran Henry Burris, who had a brief stint with the Chicago Bears a few years ago. Financial details of the contract Smith signed were not available. In less than four full seasons, the Bengals, who chose Smith in 1999 after two other quarterbacks, Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb, went off the board, awarded him a $10.8 million signing bonus.
In only 21 career appearances, 12 of them in 2000, Smith completed 215 of 461 passes for 2,212 yards, with five touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
A former University of Oregon standout, Smith parlayed one big college season into a huge payday as he rocketed up draft boards in the spring of 1999. But he never recaptured in the NFL the accuracy and playmaking skills he exhibited in his final college season.
In addition to his own shortcomings, Smith is also regarded now as part of a flawed first-round quarterback class from the 1999 lottery. Five quarterbacks were selected among the first 12 overall choices that year. Three of them – Couch (Cleveland), Smith and Cade McNown (Chicago) -- are out of the league. Daunte Culpepper, originally chosen by Minnesota, has struggled through injuries the past two years and his future with the Miami Dolphins is tenuous.
Only McNabb, taken by Philadelphia with the second overall choice, has flourished.
"You can't paint everybody with the same brush," said Smith, speaking of the collective failures of the once-celebrated quarterback class. "Every case is an individual one. I just know that I didn't play much and didn't play well at times, but I want to play again."
Released by the Bengals in 2002, by Green Bay in 2003 and the Bucs in 2005, Smith said his intent in signing with Calgary is not to use the CFL as a springboard to a possible comeback in the NFL.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.