Whatever opinion you have about what the Bengals have done in free agency so far, they’ve been steadfast in their approach – the major investments are going to be on their own players.

It’s also a process that ultimately won’t be measured by what has happened the last couple weeks but over the next year or two.

“Maybe there isn’t as much pizazz in what we’re doing as some wish. But I do think it’s the best course for our football team both in the short run and the long run,” Bengals President and Owner Mike Brown said during a wide-ranging conversation with The Enquirer and Bengals.com at the NFL Annual Meetings in Phoenix this week.

The team’s top free agent though remains unsigned as offensive tackle Andre Smith and his agent continue to assess the market. The range on the average per year on Smith’s contract could be anywhere from $6.5-8.5 million per year. Brown termed the talks as ongoing but is eager to make a deal.

Besides re-signing Smith and working to reach a long-term deal with defensive end Michael Johnson – who has a one-year franchise tag – before the July 15 deadline, the Bengals over the next year have to negotiate new contracts with defensive tackle Geno Atkins, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, tight end Jermaine Gresham, wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. By the time things are done, at least three of the aforementioned will be in the top five in their positions at average per year.

In trying to lock up their core guys, the Bengals in some ways are trying to do what the Reds did last year when they locked up Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. There are differences though. Before that they extended Jay Bruce’s contract in 2010 and Johnny Cueto’s in 2011. During the offseason in 2011 the Reds were also aggressive when they made a trade with the Padres to get Mat Latos and signed Ryan Madsen to a one-year deal worth $8 million in hopes he would be the closer. Madsen had an elbow injury and ended up not playing.

The Reds also don’t have what the Bengals do – a salary cap – yet their revenues and size of payroll are more tied in to attendance . For a franchise that has often been on the wrong end of perception, the appearance of being conservative has brought plenty of criticism.