Ooooh, wouldn't that be a tasty offseason surprise for us. The Bengals franchised Justin Smith last year, paying him $8,644,000 for the season. If they were to do the same this year to retain his services, Smith would earn $8,879,000 despite only tallying 2 sacks and 78 tackles.
I've always liked Justin Smith as a player, and apparently, so does Dick LeBeau, who has been on the record saying that he thought Smith would be better utilized in a 3-4 scheme.
According to the same source, the Steelers may also be interested in Bengals safety Madieu Williams. A Steelers scout lavished him with high praise prior to the 2004 draft, and apparently (lots of apparentlys, I know), the interest in his talent still remains.
So, what to make of this. Obviously Smith would be a fantastic addition, at least in my opinion. Not at that price tag, but if he could be had in the $5-7 million per year range, I sure would hope the Rooneys and Colbert make a big push. I've said it many times before on this site: I just don't think Brett Keisel is quite good enough. He's a valuable asset, somebody I'd love to still have rotating in and out in our front 3. But when Aaron Smith goes down and Keisel is forced to shoulder more of the load in the running game, things fall apart. And despite his impressive athleticism, Keisel doesn't get to the quarterback well enough. We all saw the importance in the Super Bowl of having pass rushers who can pressure the QB without having to sell out your whole defense with an all-out kamikaze blitz. Adding Justin Smith and actually playing LaMarr Woodley would greatly help us move closer towards becoming that type of pressure defense.
As for Madieu Williams, I don't know what to think just yet, as I've never seen him play and we seem to have, at least on paper, plenty of bodies at the safety position. Anthony Smith regressed a bit towards the end of the year, but I think his words and his play against NE kind of sullied an otherwise solid 2nd year for Smith. Tyrone Carter isn't the answer, but he comes on the extreme cheap, so I'm not sure there's much merit to letting him go. And those are the backups! If Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark return healthy next year, we'd conceivably have 5 safetys on the roster. Since I haven't seen Williams play, I don't know if he can play the nickel or dime position, and I don't know if he can make special teams contributions. Those factors would be important before making any sort of determination.
Steelers fans, thoughts?