Cincinnati Bengals’ DE Michael Johnson is the first player to receive the franchise tag as the March 4th deadline approaches. Johnson will receive the $11.175 million tag following a breakout season where Johnson not only played well against the run, but also accounted for 11.5 sacks in his best season of his career. The 26-year old has improved every year since his rookie season and should continue to be a main cog in the Bengals’ defensive line, which has been one of the most disruptive d-lines in the NFL over the past couple years.
Receiving the franchise tag means Cincinnati will have until July to hash out a new, long-term deal. The 6’7″, 270 lb defensive end was widely considered the best free agent available from the defensive line and would have been a hot commodity if he hit the open market. As it sits now, Cincinnati retains one of their promising young pieces and can now focus on signing fellow free agent RT Andre Smith. Both Smith and Johnson were worthy of being tagged, but with Johnson now taken care of, the Bengals – and their league leading cap space – can focus on trying to retain Smith and then extending other major contracts like DT Geno Atkins, WR A.J. Green and QB Andy Dalton.
Cincinnati made the right decision at this point with retaining the effective, high-potential Johnson. His ability to play both the run and the pass allows him to stay on the field for a majority of the snaps, which really benefits the Bengals’ rotating defensive front. Smith is a player the Bengals certainly should have the funds for and should do everything they can to keep him for offensive continuity, but Smith was relatively expendable considering the value of great pass rushers in today’s NFL landscape. There are other players that the Bengals may look to retain, but if Cincinnati can strike a deal with at least Smith within the next couple days, the Bengals would manage to turn the tables on what looked to be a difficult and intriguing franchise tag decision.
Johnson won’t be the only player to get tagged in the next couple days. In fact, there are reports that Buffalo has tagged S Jairus Byrd. Unlike Johnson, there was little debate over whether Buffalo should/would tag their ball-hawking playmaker. Byrd, in his brief career, has made the Pro Bowl (2009 – rookie year) and was an injury replacement this past season. He is widely considered one of the top safeties in the game today and is only 26-years old. His franchise tag is worth $6.9 million.
Here is a list of the “Top 85 free agents” before anyone was tagged.