According to Joe Reedy, the Bengals are unlikely to use the franchise tag for the second consecutive year. Teams that wish to franchise a player have until Thursday to do so.
When a team tags a player, that player gets the average salary of the top-five players at his position. The two players that the Bengals would likely tag would be running back Cedric Benson and cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
The NFL has not released the official numbers for what franchise tags would be, but it is expected that running backs would be $9-$9.5 million and cornerbacks $14-$15 million.
If they are not tagged, both Benson and Joseph would go on the market as unrestricted free agents.
Since 2010 was an uncapped year, the Bengals could also look into using a transitional tag but only for Benson. An uncapped year is for a player with six or more years in the league and averages the top-10 salaries at the position instead of the top five. A team can use a transitional tag on two players but Joseph wouldn't be eligible because he's only played in five seasons so far in his career.
Reedy also pointed out that the Bengals haven't had the best of luck every year when they used their franchise tag.
The Bengals have had mixed results when it comes to franchise tags. The last three - kicker Shayne Graham (2009), offensive tackle Stacy Andrews (2008) and defensive end Justin Smith (2007) - departed the following season as free agents. The Bengals did tag running back Rudi Johnson in 2005 and were able to reach an agreement later.
As of right now, it's unclear as to whether or not the franchise tag will even hold up. Some teams have tagged players this year, including the Ravens, Steelers and Browns, but the NFLPA has said that the franchise tags don't mean anything without a Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the NFL and NFLPA do not come to an agreement by the March 4 deadline and the NFL enters into a lockout, the NFLPA is expected to fight the franchise tags.
If the Bengals do miss out on signing on both Benson and Joseph, which position would be effected the most? At running back, behind Benson on the depth chart is Bernard Scott who hasn't shown that he could effectively carry the load by himself for an entire season. Behind Joseph, however, is Adam Jones who, if he stays healthy and out of trouble, could be a starter. If the Bengals let both Benson and Joseph go, and they fail to find an adequate replacement for either of them, they may be more hurt on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side.
Earlier this month, Josh reported on the same topic, siting Geoff Hobson who said that the Bengals probably wouldn't use their franchise tag because they wanted to wait and see what would happen with the labor negotiations.
But no matter what happens, don’t look for the Bengals to use the franchise tag on either of their two key free agents, cornerback Johnathan Joseph or running back Cedric Benson. They want to sign both to long-term deals with sane salary cap hits. But not before the CBA is done because they want to make sure the deals fit whatever system they get.
Ifis waiting to see what will happen with the CBA before he decides to work and sign Benson or Joseph, he may put himself at a huge disadvantage if either of those two players want to go someplace where, you know, they can win. There would be a lot of teams in the NFL that wouldn't mind getting their hands on Benson or Joseph.
If the Bengals are using a wait and see tactic, hopefully it works out and doesn't come back to bite them.