One of the best defensive players in the 2013 free agency market was Michael Johnson, but the Cincinnati Bengals quickly slapped the franchise tag on him to avoid any talent escaping from their excellent defense, the main reason for their success over the last couple of seasons.
Johnson, like any player, would like to get a long-term deal, despite making $11.175 million next season. However, if the Bengals and him don’t reach an agreement by July 15, he’ll play on the franchise tender he already signed, and the two will either work out a deal during the season or wait till he becomes a free agent again at the end of the 2013 season.
What’s the hold up? Johnson is 26, emerging as one of the league’s best pass-rushers last season with 11.5 sacks, and there probably is a lot more from where that’s coming. But it’s not just about Johnson. The Bengals tend to not reach long-term deals with any of their franchised players, the last of which that did get a deal was Rudi Johnson in 2005, who had one more big season before injuries completely derailed his career.
And there’s the wider view of things to consider. Johnson isn’t the only significant defensive player Cincinnati have to consider when they’re working their deals. The team’s excellent defensive tackle, Geno Atkins, with 12.5 sacks last season, is becoming a free agent at the end of this year. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap hits free agency at the end of this season as well. Both players are slightly younger than Johnson, but it’s probably going to come down to health and demands from the three of them.
The Bengals might end up having enough flexibility to sign all three of them, but with all of them looking for big deals when the season is over, it’s unlikely they’ll commit so much money to the defensive line alone. There’s only one franchise tag to use, and using it on Johnson would be too expensive (to around $13 million and change next year); Atkins, in that case, would become the favorite to get the tender.