In 2007 it was Justin Smith. In 2008, it was Stacy Andrews. In 2009, it was Shayne Graham. This year, the Bengals aren't likely to use the franchise tag on anyone. Thank goodness. Every year we use the franchise tag, that player leaves for a greater deal the following season. And no one expects Graham to return in 2010. Instead, Geoff Hobson writes, "it appears that much of the Bengals’ focus is going to be on the restricted free agent class as well as players nearing the end of their contracts."
Realistically the Bengals don't have any good options with the franchise tag. They could have franchised Shayne Graham... yea, right. Their best option was Bobbie Williams. But age likely restrains the Bengals from signing him to a deal that could reach the $9 million neighborhood. And you're not going to franchise guys like Larry Johnson, Roy Williams, Reggie Kelly (though he should return), Shaun Smith, Tank Johnson or Jeremi Johnson.
Furthermore, I'll bet that Williams will happily stay with the Bengals when they make an offer to the right guard, who will turn 34 this season.
It makes sense to focus on guys like Brandon Johnson, Kyries Hebert, Rashad Jeanty, Nate Livings, Kyle Cook, Evan Mathis, Dennis Roland, J.P. Foschi and Abdul Hodges, who are either restricted or exclusive rights free agents. All players are solid contributors in backup and/or special teams roles.
Geoff Hobson concluded:
It is believed they’ll also look at extending the contracts of players heading into their last year of deals, like cornerback Johnathan Joseph and running back Cedric Benson. Cornerback Leon Hall, who has two years left on his deal, is also an extension candidate.