The Cincinnati Bengals placed the franchise tag on prospective free agent defensive end Michael Johnson today in order to retain his services for at least one more season. By using the tag on Johnson at this time, the Bengals have guaranteed him a one year contract worth $11.175 million. For various reasons, that was their most prudent move to make.
That cap hit may be substantial, but the Bengals have more than enough space to commit that much money to one of their most impressive youngsters. Johnson’s first full season as a starter came this past year, when he tallied 11.5 sacks, 52 tackles, one interception and two pass deflections in 16 games. For his career, Johnson has started just 20 games however and has 23 total sacks in that time. Even though that ratio is incredibly impressive, it is less so when you consider that he was at least a role player in each of the 64 games since he was drafted.
At 26 years of age and coming off of his rookie deal, Johnson is only just entering his prime. Not only did he prove his talent last season as a starting defensive end, the full year of exposure and experience on the field should also have aided his development moving forward. That talent and impressive play on the field combined to earn Johnson a huge reputation entering this year’s open market. Johnson was in line to earn huge compensation on a long-term contract from one of the other teams in the league. By franchising him, the Bengals have prevented Johnson from reaching the open market and kept his price significantly lower than it would have been with the inevitable market of suitors that would have built around him.
Even though the Bengals didn’t want to allow him hit the open-market, they also couldn’t afford to commit huge money to him on a long-term contract. Johnson has only one full season as a starter and came out of college with work-rate concerns. His motivation for playing so well on the field this past year could simply have been financial, which could have meant he would never replicate that play again once he was guaranteed huge money. By guaranteeing him $11 million for one season, Johnson gets a big money deal while the Bengals don’t have to risk their financial future.
The Bengals may still re-sign him to a long-term deal this off-season, but they have afforded themselves much needed flexibility with the franchise tag.