They haven't officially done so yet, but Bengals are planning to use franchise tag on DE Michael Johnson.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 1, 2013
Later, the speculation turned out to be reality when the Cincinnati Bengals official Twitter account confirmed the news.
We have designated DE Michael Johnson as the team’s franchise player for 2013. #Bengals— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) March 1, 2013
Truth be told, the Bengals could not have made a better decision. There are a number of reasons why this move will work out very well for Cincinnati.
First, the Bengals using its franchise tag on Johnson leaves many doors open for the organization to re-sign its own free agents or make moves for others.
The Bengals top priority in free agency is to re-sign right tackle Andre Smith. Smith is set to hit the open market on March 12th when free agency begins. He will demand a high price tag, which is well deserved after his dominating past two seasons.
Aside from Smith, the Bengals also would like to bring back other free agents that do not come with as high a price tag. These players are Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry, Thomas Howard, Kevin Huber, Josh Brown and Rey Maualuga.
Obviously, Cincinnati has its work cut out to bring back its own players.
Tagging Johnson will allow the Bengals better gauge of cap space when dealing with these other players' signings.
It is not just current free agents in which the Bengals need to allow cap space. Future free agents will need to be accounted for as well.
After next season, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap will be free agents. Cincinnati will want to get long term deals done with them immediately to avoid a conundrum next year. Also, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will be free agents in 2015. This means that at this point next season the Bengals will need to negotiate with them as well.
Yes, the Bengals have $55.1 million in cap space, the largest of any NFL team. However, accounting for all of the aforementioned players as well as new draft picks, that number could get much smaller in a hurry.
Another reason the franchise tag was a great move is the fact that Johnson only just broke out this past season with 11.5 sacks. In his first three seasons in the league, he combined for the same total.
Johnson was shifted around between linebacker and defensive end for his first three years while the Bengals coaching staff tried to figure out where he fit. They finally found the right spot for him next to Atkins on the defensive line.
This brings up another concern about Johnson. By lining up next to Atkins, Johnson was generally left one-on-one with an offensive lineman due to the double teams that Atkins demanded. After struggling for much of his first three seasons, could this past year be what lies ahead, or is it possibly a fluke?
Should the Bengals have used the franchise tag on Michael Johnson?
Applying the franchise tag gives the Bengals an extra year to figure this out. If Johnson's numbers dwindle, they can simply allow him to walk into free agency next season. If there is no significant drop-off from 2012, they can talk about a long-term deal after the upcoming season.
Lastly, when a franchise tag is applied, many fans fear a holdout. This will most likely not be the case for Johnson as the Bengals have had a firm grip on its players over the past several years. If Johnson would happen to hold out, he would be fined $30,000 each day.
This works out nicely for both sides. The Bengals get another year to evaluate Johnson and can now move on to re-signing other free agents. Johnson can go out and prove that he is worth the money that he will be earning this season knowing fully that a long-term contract is around the corner if he does.