As the Bengals neared the tag deadline, there were thoughts that either Anthony Collins or Michael Johnson would have Cincinnati’s lone franchise tag slapped upon him. Yet, when the deadline came and went, the Bengals made the decision to take their chances in free agency.
If a tag had been applied, Cincinnati would have been on the hook for a lot of money. Johnson, who played under the franchise tag last season, was set to earn about $13.5 million, a mandated 20-percent raise over the previous year’s tag, while Collins would have raked in a cool $11.7 million. Of course, the entirety of these contracts would be guaranteed as well.
Though there never was really an expectation that the Bengals would actually use their franchise tag, the designation would have ensured that the front office would be able to continue long-term contract negotiations with the player. The fact that this option doesn’t seem to have been considered shows that Cincinnati is willing, if not expecting, to lose their top free agents.
That being said, with the salary cap rising to $133 million this year, $10 million more than last year, and likely to continue rising for the next few years, the Bengals, with roughly $30 million in cap space, are finding that the chances of locking down either Johnson or Collins to a long-term contract is much more feasible. If a long-term deal is reached, Johnson and Collins could be retained at a bargain compared to the money they would have received with the franchise tag. Even if Johnson were to garner $8 million a year, a high-end estimate, he would still be making over $5 million less than under the franchise tag.
Still, Bengals management is most definitely aware of several other key contracts set to expire at the end of this next season: A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict. Green will unquestionably demand top dollar for his services, while Burfict, who led the NFL in tackles last season, will be looking for a major pay raise as well. There is a good chance that Cincinnati could look to extend one or more of these players during the offseason. Otherwise, their future contracts will at least be in mind when discussing the rest of the Bengals roster.
By relying on drafting and developing their players, the Bengals have proven that they want to build their organization from the ground up, rather than through free agency. Given that, it would come as a surprise if they didn’t make a serious run at either Johnson or Collins. Expect Cincinnati to work hard to resign their key cogs, as well as bring in one or two more contributors during free agency.
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