According to multiple reports, the Bengals will use the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins. This is somewhat surprising news considering the rumors that Johnson wanted to stay in Cincinnati and the two sides were actively working on coming to an agreement on a long-term deal. The news that they're going to use the tag on him means that they're either close, but not there yet and they want to avoid him testing the free agent market, or that they're not close at all and may never be.
The two biggest free agents the Bengals had to re-sign heading into 2013 were Johnson and right tackle Andre Smith. When the news broke that Johnson wished to remain in Cincinnati, we believed that if the team was to re-sign one of the two to a long-term deal, it would be Johnson, leaving the franchise tag for Smith. However, that's obviously not going to be the case since a team only has one franchise tag to use.
So what does this mean for Smith?
It could mean absolutely nothing. As far as we know, the Bengals could be drafting a multi-year contract with Smith right now. However, that doesn't seem to be the case. Since the Bengals are going to use the tag on Johnson, it likely means they're going to let Smith test the free agency market. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. Smith will see what he's really worth in the eyes of other franchises. He did have a good year in 2012, but he may have a figure in his head much higher than his actual market value. If that's the case, the Bengals could re-sign him for the price they think is fair.
However, if Smith tests the market and finds that he's worth more than the Bengals are willing to spend, his days as a Cincinnati Bengal are likely done.
While in Indianapolis, Marvin Lewis addressed the media at the 2013 NFL Combine and stated that the first position group that he watched film of was offensive tackle. That could mean nothing more than that happened to be the first tape handed to him, or it could mean that they have been planning on not having Smith back in 2013 already at that point.
The Bengals also re-signed Anthony Collins before the 2012 season to a two-year deal that would pay him $1.8 million in 2013. If they are toying with the idea of letting Smith test the free agency waters, having his backup in place could make a transition away from Smith easier.
In the end, finding players that can pressure the quarterback and come up with over 10 sacks in a season isn't an easy task. As this is a passing league, players who can pressure the quarterback are the linchpin of any successful defense. However, the same can be said for a team's ability to protect their quarterback.
When it comes to Andre Smith, it's wait and see, but the news that the tag is going to be used on Johnson is likely a little disconcerting to those that are hoping Smith is in stripes in 2013.