With NFL free agency starting in 11 days the Bengals have opted to put the franchise tag on kicker Mike Nugent in securing his services with a one-year deal for 2012.
The NFL has yet to release the official franchise numbers, although the projected tag for a kicker is $2.7 million. A team can still sign Nugent, but if the Bengals didn't match they would be owed two first-round picks.
The Bengals can still negotiate with Nugent for a long-term deal before or after he signs the tag. Once he signs he's guaranteed the tender offer.
Nugent, a local product via Centerville, Ohio and Ohio State, is coming off the best season of his seven in the NFL with a Bengals record and career-high 33 field goals and 132 points, as well as career-best 36 touchbacks. He did it after coming back from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his kicking knee in the ninth game of 2010 and his teammates voted him the Ed Block Courage Award for this season.
He put 67 of his 80 kickoffs into the end zone in helping the Bengals finish first in the NFL in opponents starting field position after kickoffs on the 20.3-yard line. After a hot start in which he hit 25 of his first 27 (one of them was blocked), Nugent missed four his last 10 tries.
Ken Harris, Nugent's agent, said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine he had a meeting with the club and that the sides would continue to talk. It is unclear how the tag affects the other key Bengals free agents.
Jimmy Gould, the agent for defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, said Friday that he had preliminary talks with the Bengals after the season when they expressed their desire to re-sign him and they have plans to talk again.
Starting safety Reggie Nelson was also a candidate for the tag and head coach Marvin Lewis said last week the Bengals would like to re-sign him. But he also expressed confidence in the young safety corps of Taylor Mays, Robert Sands and Jeromy Miles.
Also up is defensive lineman Jon Fanene, coming off a season he matched his career best with six sacks. His agent, Angelo Wright, said he hasn't heard from the Bengals.
"Jon loves the team, loves the city, and we've heard they'd like him back," Wright said. "We're ready for either that or to go to market."