Updated: 9:45 p.m.
The man called "The Running Reverend" isn't going to start walking now.
Bengals running back Cedric Peerman, who has emerged to quietly fill Reggie Kelly's role as the club's locker room spiritual leader, doesn't have much time to savor his contract extension that he signed Thursday. He's headed to Panama on Monday on a weeklong mission trip with Athletes in Action. Like last year's trip, he'll be taking as many of his old clothes as he can fit into his bags to donate to youth. So there could soon be a few No. 30s in stripes soon in Panama City.
"There's a No. 30 somewhere in Costa Rica," Peerman said of last year's trip. "Just making sure some people are going to have a nice Christmas."
The Bengals wanted to make sure they kept their No. 30 around for a few years, so with Peerman set to be a one-year restricted free agent it's believed they reached a two-year deal with him.
With free agency starting Saturday (deals can't be signed and announced until Tuesday), the Bengals also on Thursday tendered their other restricted free agent for $1.3 million, safety Jeromy Miles, as well as two exclusive rights free agents at $550,000 apiece in wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey as the Bengals doled out about $3.7 million in cap costs Thursday.
“All four of these guys have made significant contributions to us reaching the playoffs each of the last two years,” head coach Marvin Lewis said in a news release. “They are players we want to retain, and this (tender process) is a step in that direction.”
**The benefit for Peerman is he gets an immediate bonus along with a salary instead of just a restricted free agent's $1.3 million salary for this season. The significance for the Bengals is the number counting against the salary cap is still about $1.3 million, but it also indicates Peerman is in their plans for the next few years. If not as their third down back or a situational back, then he'll continue to be a core special-teamer for a unit that finished first last season when combining its rankings in the NFL's 10 major special teams categories.
"I've been here three years and it's been a great three years for me. To be able to be signed (for multi) years, I'm speechless over it," said Peerman, who has a certificate to minister in his home state of Virginia.
"That was one of my prayers. Longevity with one team was one of my goals. Just to be with one organization is awesome to me."
Peerman's NFL career began on the North team the Bengals coached in the 2009 Senior Bowl, but the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round and he bounced to Cleveland and then Detroit without playing in a game his rookie year before he settled in Cincinnati in the spring of 2010.
After carrying the ball five times in the previous two seasons, the 5-10, 211-pound Peerman took it 36 times last year. His career average of five yards per carry balloons to 6.7 when counting last year's two runs for 80 yards off fake punts. He has 36 career special teams tackles after nine this season and is the highly-regarded personal protector for punter Kevin Huber.
But Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has said this offseason he wouldn't mind adding some speed to his backfield and he's kept Peerman in the conversation.
As Cincinnati's two other backup running backs, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard, head into free agency and a draft looming where the Bengals could pick two backs since they could have many as 10 draft choices, Peerman and No. 1 back BenJarvus Green-Ellis are in the fold for the next few years.
But Peerman knows all about roster competition since he's won his roster spot three straight years with solid work in the preseason games.
"I've prayed and wanted more of a role on offense and last year I got a little bit of a role there," Peerman said. "This is a new year and each year brings in new guys and the same guys come back better and they come back younger. I'd love to have some kind of role like that, but I want to fit the team the best way I can. I just have to put my work in and hope for the best."
Peerman, Miles, Rey and Hawkins all played big roles in the special teams effort, and it's believed the Bengals are also trying to secure other core special-teamers before they become free agents, such as Huber and long snapper Clark Harris. Also on the radar is a kicker, but it's not clear if it's going to be Mike Nugent or the man that replaced him with a near flawless playoff run, Josh Brown.
Miles was second on special teams last year with 15 tackles and had a career-best 15 tackles on defense. Hawkins was the No. 1 slot receiver and had the third-most catches (51) and receiving yards (533) while scoring four touchdowns. Rey played in every game with one start, and while making 18 tackles on defense he tied for third with 12 tackles on special teams.
As an RFA, Miles may negotiate with other teams but the Bengals have the right to match any offer. Since Miles was undrafted, the Bengals won't receive any compensation if they don't match. The deadline for a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet is April 19. Any RFA who has not signed an offer sheet by then has his 2013 NFL rights revert to his club.
As exclusive-rights players, Hawkins and Rey have the option of signing the tender or negotiating a longer contract with the Bengals.
Meanwhile, Peerman, 26, is planning for a week with a few NFL players and several college players in Panama, where they'll hold clinics for youth, help build a community project, and share their faith.
"My faith has brought me from where I was to where I am now and I'm just trying to be obedient and share the gospel," he said.
And that includes bringing what doesn't fit in the closet, an interesting way to celebrate a new deal.
"Americans have a lot of old clothes," he said. "I'm going to try and scrounge up as much as I can find."