Hobson's Choice: Tag, who is it?

Q: You have heard a lot recently about the "franchise" tag as it relates to Justin Smith and the possibility of using it again on him or on Stacy Andrews. Wasn't there also a "transition" tag that can be used in lieu of "franchise"? Can you explain how that works and whether that is a viable option in either case?
--Tony, Cincinnati, OH

TONY: It looks like the Bengals are going to use the franchise tag, but on who by the Feb. 21 deadline? Smith, Andrews, or free safety Madieu Williams? Unless you think you can make a trade, the transition tag is virtually useless.

The transition tag is the average of the top 10 highest paid players at the free agent's position. But if an offer is made on a transition free agent that a team doesn't match, the losing team doesn't get any compensation.

The franchise tag is how teams keep guys. That's the average of the top five salaries at that player's position and the compensation is two first-rounders.

Tagging Smith again after last season's $8.6 million is the biggest cost at $8.8 million. Tough to give a guy nearly eight figures when he's never in double-digit sacks. But the $17.4 million for two years is less than he would have received in upfront money of a multi-year deal.

Andrews ($7.5M for offensive line) and Williams ($4.4M for safeties) make more sense economically with Williams a real option because they aren't loaded with veteran safeties and the tender doesn't prevent you from doing some major deals.

And they could probably work with Andrews' $7.5 million, but how can you have that sitting on the bench now when everybody is healthy?

They could always remove the tag later, but the player then automatically becomes a free agent.


Q: In reference to the CHAD-GATE portion of your recent article, am I reading correctly (and I'm not trying to call into question your work or role or your independent voice), are the Bengals now using back channels to let Snyder know that no trade is forthcoming? I still believe this can all blow over and hope Chad stays because if not, T.J. will be triple-teamed and Henry isn't half as reliable as Chad. Nice work. I'm sure you're as sick of this as the fans are.
--Don, Delaware, OH

DON: Mike Brown doesn't believe in back channels and used DirecTV back in November when he said Chad was going nowhere. Plus, Chad-Gate was written post red-eye trip and blissfully unaware of The Washington Post story reporting the Redskins' interest.

And Marvin Lewis came right out the week Chad started yapping last month and said the same thing: No trade.

And one thing Mike and Marvin have in common is, don't back either of them into a corner.

The Bengals have been quite direct. Lewis has a great relationship with Snyder from that one season in Washington, so that's not really a back channel, either.

That said, there was the sense at the Pro Bowl that Johnson is starting to realize he isn't going anywhere. The Bengals simply can't get past that $8 million salary cap hit, or the fact they've given him $16 million the past two years. That means more to them than any of Dan Snyder's draft picks.

And the Bengals truly have high regard for what Johnson does for them on the field. His ego may have been bruised by internal criticism, but his franchise-record 1,440 yards isn't taken lightly in high places.

Which sounds great on paper. But the question is if Johnson can return to this locker room after the pronouncements of the past month. Certainly guys like Lance Briggs and Alan Faneca did this past year after volatile offseasons, and the belief is that Johnson can do the same.

Agreed on losing him. How do you replace him? Yeah, there's the Tiki Barber-addition-by-subtraction argument, but this team doesn't have a Derrick Ward behind him, never mind a Brandon Jacobs. You've got T.J. and that's all. Chris Henry simply can't be counted and Tab Perry has never been healthy enough to contribute at receiver.

There is the argument that you can put anybody with any kind of talent (say a middle-of-the-road free agent) with Carson Palmer and he'll make it work. But the Bengals need to do more than just get by. They've got a gamebreaker and they know they won't get one in return in time for the 2008 playoff chase.

Yes sir, Don, it is getting tiring. But one thing about Chad: He's got a huge heart. In the end, that probably rules the day. It's why assistant strength coach Ray Oliver said after talking to him in Hawaii last week, "He's a Bengal."

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