Bengals tender T.J. Johnson as free agency opens


On the first day of free agency Tuesday several players hit the market after they were released by their teams and that's the kind of player the Bengals mull this early in the process.

As expected, the Bengals tendered a one-year contract to restricted free agent guard-center T.J Johnson, thought to be at $1.8 million. That means if Johnson signs elsewhere the Bengals can match or get a seventh-round draft pick as compensation.

Since released players aren't classified as unrestricted free agents, they don't count in the formula determining compensatory draft picks. It's how they picked up their biggest impact free agents last year in wide receiver Brandon LaFell, terminated by the Patriots March 16, and linebacker Karlos Dansby, terminated by Cleveland March 2.

Some names terminated Tuesday playing positions that could interest the Bengals pending how free agency goes were Chargers guard D.J. Fluker, Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers, and 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith. The Bengals' first targets in free agency are believed to be their own players at those spots in LaFell, right guard Kevin Zeitler, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and that's where they seem to be aiming in addition to Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth and running back Rex Burkhead.

It's the kind of signing they don't consider until they've exhausted signing their own. LaFell and Dansby didn't sign until the last days of March. The 6-4, 300-pound Johnson, a seventh-round selection in 2013, is coming off his best season and is a leading contender to replace Zeitler if they lose him. Johnson played a career-high 95 snaps and made his first NFL start at left guard in the season finale.

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