The first day for NFL teams to dole out franchise and transition designations to their unrestricted free agents came and went Thursday, but the Bengals aren't expected to use either on their UFAs by the time free agency opens March 5.
They could have used both on two players because 2010 is not expected to have a salary cap as opposed to years past when teams could use only one or the other tag on just one player.
Instead, it appears that much of the Bengals' focus is going to be on the restricted free agent class as well as players nearing the end of their contracts. The NFL year begins the same day, March 5, and all signs are there won't be a salary cap, meaning that players with four and five years of NFL experience are not UFAs, but restricted free agents.
Heading that list are two regulars, left guard Evan Mathis and tight end J.P. Foschi, as well as the top Bengals reserve on either side of the ball in WILL linebacker Brandon Johnson. Four more solid defensive backups and/or special-teamers, linebackers Rashad Jeanty and Abdul Hodge, defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, and cornerback David Jones, are also restricted.
The Bengals are expected to tender a one-year deal to most of them in an outlay in the $10 million neighborhood. With the Bengals figuring to draft a tight end high in the April draft and tight end Chase Coffman, last year's third-rounder, coming back from a foot injury, Foschi and Daniel Coats are question marks but the others are probably going to get tendered.
That means the Bengals have the right to match any offer and if they don't they would get compensation commensurate with the tender.
For instance, Brandon Johnson and Jeanty played so well in '08 that when they were restricted last year the Bengals gave them a second-round contract, meaning the compensation would be a second-round pick if a team chose to sign them. If the Bengals gave them the normal tender, the compensation would be a draft pick from the round that particular player was chosen. There would be no compensation for Jeanty, who came into the league as a free agent, and Johnson would net a fifth-rounder.
If the Bengals play it the same way this season, they'll tender both Jeanty and Johnson at $1.8 million for the year instead of the original compensation offer of $1.2 for a player with five years of experience. Mathis, a third-round pick by Carolina in 2005, may get the original $1.2 million.
The tenders for four-year veterans, such as Rucker, are slightly smaller. If the Bengals opt to give an original-round compensation to Rucker, their third-rounder in 2006 who has been productive at both end and tackle, it would be $1.176 million, as opposed to $1.76 million for a second-rounder.
Even though they won't put the franchise tag on unrestricted free agent kicker Shayne Graham for a second straight year at about $2.9 million and even though he missed two field goals in the Wild Card loss to the Jets, indications are the Bengals are still going to try and sign him.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has already said they'd like to re-sign two starters in safety Roy Williams and tackle Tank Johnson. The Bengals have to make some decisions on aging starters in right guard Bobbie Williams, who turns 34 the third week of the season, tight end Reggie Kelly, who turns 33 in two weeks, and fullback Jeremi Johnson, who turns 30 the week of the opener.
It is believed they'll also look at extending the contracts of players heading into their last year of deals, like cornerback Johnathan Joseph and running back Cedric Benson. Cornerback Leon Hall, who has two years left on his deal, is also an extension candidate.