Bengals franchise Rudi
2/15/2005 - 2:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals gave running back Rudi Johnson the franchise tag on Tuesday. (Bengals photo)
As expected, the Bengals made running back Rudi Johnson their franchise player Tuesday in effectively taking him off the free-agent market.
It remains to be seen if Johnson is going to follow through on his threat to sit out the season if the Bengals gave him the franchise tag by tendering him a one-year offer of $6.3 million that is the average of the top five paid running backs in the NFL. The word out of Hawaii, where Johnson led the AFC in rushing in Sunday’s Pro Bowl, is that Johnson plans to sign the tender. But before the Bengals made the announcement Tuesday, Johnson agent Peter Schaffer said they would wait to make a call if the Bengals actually went ahead and franchised him.
They did because Johnson becomes an unrestricted free agent March 2. Now that he is franchised, the Bengals can retain Johnson by matching any offer sheet. If the Bengals didn’t match, the team getting Johnson would have to give the Bengals first-round draft choices in 2005 and 2006.
Johnson wants a long-term deal, but the sides appear to be far apart. Schaffer said Tuesday he has responded to the Bengals’ proposal of last month and that “the ball is in their court.” The Bengals hit the ball back with the franchise tag after a season in which Johnson broke Corey Dillon’s club season rushing record with 1,454 yards. In his 21 NFL starts, Johnson has gained 2,206 yards.
“This is the most responsible move we can make in pursuit of our goal to give our fans a playoff season and a run for the Super Bowl in 2005,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a news release. “The franchise option is designed to help a team retain the rights to a top player, and the players union supports it because it guarantees that player a salary commensurate with what he has accomplished. We will continue to work with Rudi and his representatives for the possibility of a longer-term contract.”
If the Bengals can’t get a long-term deal with Johnson before March 16, the sides can’t talk about a multi-year contract again until July 15.