Bengals deal again

Updated: 5 p.m.



The Bengals did the kind of deal Friday that wins championships. They locked up a young role player before he hits stardom and free agency by making Jeremi Johnson the NFL's highest-paid fullback, according to agent Peter Schaffer.

For the second time in a week, the Bengals wrapped up a potential Pro Bowler long-term. After securing right guard Bobbie Williams through 2009, they got Johnson through 2011.

With a $1.505 million average and $2.4 million this year in salary and bonus, Johnson is now officially set to be here longer than even head coach Marvin Lewis and his deal that is through '10.

And Lewis is still working it. With Johnson's salary cap number for this season at about $1.5 million, the Bengals figure to have about $6 million more to spend for this season and he acknowledged again the Bengals have interest in Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington. But not at his current price, which apparently is higher than the $11 million guarantee Jacksonville reportedly has on the table.

In this spring of the expanded salary cap that jumped from $94 million to $102 million last month, the Bengals have signed six of their own free agents, signed three other free agents, and extended the contracts of two starters.

Johnson and Williams are textbook studies in how Lewis wants to build his team; players willing to take less to stay on a contender. Johnson, like Williams, drove the deal because he wanted to be here.

"There's no question that both players could have got more in free agency (next year)," Lewis said. "That's what we tell all our players. ... We want to keep as many of our good young players as we can. ... We'd like to sign you here but you have to decide for yourself personally. And we're not going to get mad about it at all. We want to win, just like you want to win. You have to do the best thing we can to maintain the (best) 53 guys on this team."

The 5-11, 255-pound Johnson has become the ultimate Lewis player. A fourth-round draft pick out of Western Kentucky in 2003, Johnson's 12 catches this past season accounted for three touchdowns and for the second straight season he led block running back Rudi Johnson to a franchise rushing record. He hasn't missed any of his 48 games and has become a respected figure among teammates and coaches for overcoming some serious weight issues and remaking his body into a slab of cement.

"I have to step it up a notch. I want to show them how grateful I am for the opportunity," Johnson said.

Running backs coach Jim Anderson believes Johnson is emerging into a point of his career in which he can become a top player at his position.

"The more success we have, the more he'll be recognized," Anderson said. "The guys they say play better than him, I don't know if they are every Sunday."

The low-key Johnson gave credit to Anderson and the rest of the coaches in charting his growth from his rookie year to his third season last year. Many see him as a potential Pro Bowler, but he shrugged off such talk Friday.

"If I can be a consistent player, it's because of the coaching staff," Johnson said. "I'm a member of that first class of Coach Lewis. That's a point of pride to me."

It just so happens that Johnson is a big fan of fellow Louisville native Muhammad Ali (not to mention Howard Cosell), and Rudi Ali Johnson was named after one of the 20th century's iconic figures. Jeremi feels at home here for a lot of reasons.

"It's definitely home now, huh?" Johnson asked. "I grew up down the road. The Bengals are the only professional team I've been around my whole entire life. It's a dream come true to have a whole career here."

Rudi and Jeremi have a close relationship based on the needle. Schaffer, who negotiated a five-year deal for Rudi last year, said Rudi would have broken Jeremi's kneecaps if he left via free agency.

But Rudi is quite serious about one thing. "He's athletic and can do a lot of things," he said of Jeremi. "When Chris (Perry) went down, he came in and played third down, so that tells you something."

Jeremi joked back in a Thursday locker-room session, "More athletic than the running back."

"I want him next to me as long as I'm here," Rudi said. "He's young, but so am I. I'm a young dude."

That's the big thing about this deal. Rudi turns 27 Oct. 1 and has four years left. Jeremi turns 26 a week before the opener and can turn 31 here. Throw in the 24-year-old Perry and the backfield is awash in youth.

Also Friday, the Bengals announced that training camp at Georgetown College in n Georgetown, Ky., will open July 30 with most likely a night practice.

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