First-rounder was 18th overall pick

Updated: July 31, 2004, 8:48 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The New Orleans Saints on Saturday reached a contract agreement with their first-round draft choice, Ohio State defensive end Will Smith.

The contract is for six years but can be voided to five years if Smith reaches predetermined levels of playing time. The maximum value of the deal is about $12 million, and guaranteed bonuses total roughly $6.2 million.

Despite already having one of the NFL's deepest defensive lines and little glaring need for an end, the Saints chose Smith because he was simply too good to pass on at that juncture of the first round. While Smith seems a luxury on paper, his addition is an example of New Orleans officials exercising foresight.

The team's best end, five-year veteran Darren Howard, can become an unrestricted free agent after this season and, should he depart, Smith could step into the starting lineup and play in tandem with another first-rounder, third-year veteran Charles Grant.

Howard was designated as the Saints' "franchise" player in the offseason and opted to sign just the one-year qualifying offer that went along with it.

Smith, 22, was regarded by most scouts as the best all-around defensive end in the 2004 draft, and many were surprised when he slipped to the 18th pick of the opening round. His agreement continues the first round signing momentum of the past two days; seven top picks having reached agreements since Friday afternoon.

"He realized that to make the most out of his rookie season, he couldn't miss any more time at training camp. This is a player we expect to make an impact, and we're thrilled to have him agree to terms and on his way to New Orleans," Saints GM Mickey Loomis told The Associated Press.

A starter in all four of his years with the Buckeyes, Smith appeared in 51 games (37 starts). He totaled 167 tackles, including 47 stops for losses, 21 sacks, 42 pressures, five forced fumbles, two recoveries and an interception.

The former high school all-American first gained scouts' attention with a superb junior season that included a standout performance against the University of Miami in an overtime victory that secured the Buckeyes the national championship.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.