T.J. prepares

Updated: 10 p.m.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, expressing relief it wasn't him, is surprised the Bengals tagged a specialist Monday with the franchise designation instead of running back Cedric Benson or safety Chris Crocker.

"That's not to take anything away from what Shayne does," Houshmandzadeh said. "But those guys are on the field more."

The move finally gives some kind of an indication on how the Bengals are going to proceed in the free agency period that begins Feb. 27.

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Houshmandzadeh

Head coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement Monday that the Bengals are going to continue to pursue their own free agents. But by not putting the $9.88 million tag on Houshmandzadeh, they look to be preparing to sign a host of free agents from inside and maybe outside instead of a couple of major ones .

That could still include Houshmandzadeh, although the Bengals look like they are just .8 percent away from ticking off their quarterback. The Houshmandzadehs weekended with the Palmers in Las Vegas over Valentine's Day and Carson Palmer bet Houshmandzadeh that the Bengals would put the franchise tag on him.

"I've got to call him now," Houshmandzadeh said, "and tell him he owes me money."

When he heard that the Bengals had given Graham the franchise tag, Houshmandzadeh jacked the odds at him playing elsewhere in 2009 to "99.2 percent."

What you can bet on is that if the Bengals lose Houshmandzadeh, they'll pursue a veteran receiver and have a long pause before they trade fellow wideout Chad Ocho Cinco. Houshmandzadeh told some media outlets Monday that The Ocho is on the trade block. But he also said that doesn't mean he's going anywhere.

"You have to find out what you can get for him?" he asked. "So, yeah. He could be back."

If they do trade The Ocho, Houshmandzadeh wondered aloud, "Then they're going to be like the other teams in the division. Great defense. No mistakes on offense. Have a $100 million quarterback hand off."

The Bengals are going to make stands with Benson and Crocker, knowing if they can't re-sign Benson they'll have to get a veteran running back. Even if they do re-sign rehabbing right tackle Stacy Andrews (ACL), they have no idea if and when he'll be able to contribute this season and that could also mean another foray into the market. Which is where they'll have to go if they don't re-up backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Plus, they want to extend Crocker to get him back after he did things in the last eight games of the season that no safety has done under Lewis and probably not since a young Darryl Williams.

That's a lot of players.

It has been reported on at least two web sites the Bengals have $28 million to spend in free agency. But that figure doesn't take into consideration several factors, the most important of which are the new salary cap rules put in place because the 2010 season doesn't have a cap.

Some reporters covering the NFL believe that some teams are going to have to leave a pad for incentives that may start around $2.5 million and go up. Incentives that can be reached during the 2009 season can't be rolled into 2010 and the cap number must take them into account. For the Bengals, that would include players like the No. 1 pick from last year, Keith Rivers, as well as some second- and third-round picks.

The pad is also needed for dead money for players traded or released. Their cap hits can no longer go into future years, only into '09.

The Bengals traditionally start with a $2 million pad for injuries, and one estimate had them using $4 million in the record-setting 2008 season that saw 21 players end up on injured reserve.

Also in the mix has to be figured about $5 million in draft picks and an estimated $4-5 million in tender offers to restricted free agents.

RFA linebackers Rashad Jeanty and Brandon Johnson may be looking at a tender of $1.5 million each. That would net the Bengals second-round compensation if they signed elsewhere and pretty much assure they'd stay.

They have to make decisions on four other restricteds, as well, in safety John Busing, running back De De Dorsey, wide receiver Glenn Holt, and linebacker Corey Mays. If they just make the lowest tender of $1 million to them, the Bengals would get no compensation because they came into the league as free agents.

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Graham

And now counting against the cap is Graham's $2.48 million one-year deal, the average of the top five paid kickers in the league.

"I'm sure he's mad. If you think he's one of the top five kickers, give a long-term deal worth that," Houshmandzadeh said.

It's believed the Bengals and Graham have been driving around that neighborhood for more than a year but haven't been able to meet. He released a statement through his representatives Monday that indicated his unhappiness with the negotiations but also indicated he wouldn't sit out to protest the move.

"I appreciate the Bengals recognition of my value to the team," the statement read in part. "I would have preferred to enter a long-term market value contract, either with the Bengals or through free agency.

"I will be committed to helping the Bengals win football games in the 2009 season. I truly appreciate the support of my teammates and the great fans of Cincinnati."

Graham is permitted to talk to other teams when free agency starts. But the Bengals can match the offer. If they decline, that club would have to give the Bengals first-round choices in the 2009 and 2010 NFL Drafts, virtually keeping him with the club.

If Graham signs the one-year offer, the $2.48 million is guaranteed and he and the Bengals are still permitted to agree on an extension before July 15.

Houshmandzadeh said he would consider the Bengals if they offer him "a fair deal" once free agency opens. But he has said in the past that going by history that hasn't happened yet.

"I didn't go to the last two (seasons of) voluntary workouts because I felt like I was underpaid compared to what my peers were getting," said Houshmandzadeh, who signed a four-year deal for roughly $3 million per year before the 2005 season.

As early as the first 15 minutes of the offseason Houshmandzadeh said he would defy the tag and not report to the Bengals for the offseason workouts. When he went on national radio last week to shop his wares, it became clear the Bengals were in a longshot to sign him before free agency, although it appears they plan to jump into the fray when other teams seek his services.

Houshmandzadeh, who turns 32 this Sept. 26, probably had his age working against him for the tag. Still, he has become the club's third all-time leading receiver, became the first Bengal to lead the NFL in receiving with 112 catches in 2007, and last year finished with an NFL-best 31 catches on third down, a category where he is a perennial top five performer.

"We'll see," he said. "It should be interesting."

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