The Bengals may have the most cap space in the league, but that doesn't mean that they're going to be able to re-sign every big-name free agent they have. This offseason, they'll need to figure out a way to keep both right tackle Andre Smith and defensive end Michael Johnson in stripes for at least another season. However, with the contracts of guys like Geno Atkins, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton coming to an end, re-signing both to long-term deals may not be possible.
That's why, according to the folks at Pro Football Focus, the Bengals using the franchise tag on Smith is basically a "Slam Dunk."
Cincinnati Bengals: Andre Smith Jr., OT
Smith has certainly come a long way since running shirtless at the combine and earning a -14.7 PFF grade over his first two seasons. He was the best right tackle in the NFL this year, excelling in the run game and earning a starting spot on our All-Pro team. Getting arrested for trying to bring a gun on an airplane is not the ideal way to head into free agency, but Smith's talent (and the Bengals' cap space) makes it unlikely that Cincinnati will let him get away.
Allowing Smith to even test the market would be a huge mistake as it would just drive his price up. If the Bengals are truly unable to re-sign him, which may very well end up being the case, they will have no choice but to use the franchise tag on him. If they do that, they'd be looking at spending about $9.66 million to keep Smith for at least one more season.
The Bengals can no longer allow their best free agents to leave for other teams. You would think that after losing Justin Smith to the 49ers that they would have learned, but they also allowed Johnathan Joseph to leave as well. Those to failures to re-sign players set the team back and losing Smith would set them back as well. Instead of using a high draft pick on a new right tackle, they would be free to use that pick on a player that could fill a different void, like at linebacker, safety or running back.
Still, it would be nice to see the Bengals and Smith work out a long-term deal. The franchise tag numbers will likely be finalized in March and the deadline for applying for the franchise tag is March 4.