August 16, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (93) before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Bengals beat the Falcons 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
1. Resigning MJ
Michael Johnson is arguably the most crucial free agent resigning of the offseason and likely primary effort in the front office right now. Johnson netted 11.5 sacks in a breakout season and was the major threat on the outside of the defensive line. While he has made recent statements expressing his intense desire to return to the Queen City, the Bengals will look to not over-pay nor under-pay for Johnson as the club must be diligent at maximizing cap space for Dalton and Green whose rookie contracts will expire sooner rather than later. The likelihood of this deal getting done is still pretty good, but on the off-chance that it doesn’t, the Bengals requirement for a stud defensive end will jump up the priority list and almost certainly consume the first pick of their 2013 NFL Draft.
Oct 14, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith (71) before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
2. Laying on the Tag
Andre Smith is the front runner for dubious honor of being franchise tagged after a massively productive season. However, if a deal can’t get done with Michael Johnson, then the Bengals may look to franchise him instead and try to work a deal out with Smith in order to retain both. However, it’s a cool million dollars more to franchise a defensive end (just under $11M) than an offensive lineman ($9.7M), and signing Smith long-term is a bit more of a gamble than a deal with Johnson who has shown progressive improvement since being drafted 70th in 2009, the same year Smith was drafted 6th overall and looked like a complete bust until recently.
Should the Bengals choose to utilize the franchise tag elsewhere and subsequently be unable to secure Smith, then suddenly the need for a big right tackle arises. Important to remember that this worst case scenario only plays out if money becomes an issue, in which case the only way to get a cheap starting tackle is the Draft.