Waiting for June 1

June 1 cuts are right around the corner, and all eyes in Cincinnati are looking at Akili Smith. The fifth-year quarterback, the third overall pick of the 1999 draft, could be let go.<br><br> As of June 1, the Bengals can release Smith -– or any other player -- and count a share of their remaining amortized signing bonus on the salary cap in 2004.

The question with Smith really isn't money. The $10.8 million signing bonus the Bengals gave him in August 1999 has, in fact, acted as his greatest job security.

At issue is whether coach Marvin Lewis and his staff are comfortable with Smith as the top backup to starter Jon Kitna. Lewis has named Kitna the starter, and the organization invested the first overall draft pick in this year's draft in Carson Palmer –- the team's quarterback of the future.

How soon the future arrives for Palmer is another piece of the puzzle that could clear up Smith's picture. If coaches think Palmer is capable of playing sooner than later this season, he could be the No. 2 quarterback, though the plan remains for him to sit this year.

The Bengals would like Smith to earn the No. 2 job, but they are not commenting directly on any potential transaction.

"I have no idea what's going to happen," Smith said after an on-field coaching session at Paul Brown Stadium last week.

"I'm walking around here as lightly as heck. It's driving me crazy. I can't focus on what I need to focus on. I don't know what they're thinking, what they're looking at, and I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself because they're capable of cutting me. I'm here, I'm working hard, and the next thing you know, you're cut. It's hard."

Smith is to due a $530,000 base salary, the league minimum for a fifth-year player. The Bengals would save that amount this season. But releasing him provides no real savings for the organization.

The Bengals have to absorb another $3.39 million salary cap hit on Smith's signing bonus. By cutting Smith after June 1, the Bengals would take a $1.85 million salary cap hit in 2003 and another of $1.54 million in 2004, league sources say.

"I truly wonder if my cap wasn't so big, would I be gone?" Smith said. "It's cheaper to keep me."

Smith has played in 22 games in four seasons with 17 starts. He has a 3-14 record as a starter and has thrown five touchdowns and 2,212 yards with 12 interceptions. His career passer rating is 52.8. He lost the starting job after starting the first 10 games in 2000. He started one more game in 2000 and one each in 2001 and 2002.

Smith has worked hard and said he would like to stay in Cincinnati. He has two years of experience in coordinator Bob Bratkowski's offense. Releasing Smith and bringing in a veteran quarterback would force the new player to learn a new offense. Possible free agent veterans available include Kent Graham and Shane Matthews.

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