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Bengals franchise Justin Smith

As many expected, the Bengals nailed the franchise tag on Justin Smith.

In a move that gives them flexibility in free agency the Bengals announced Thursday they have designated defensive end Justin Smith as their franchise player.

A week after agent Jim Steiner said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Bengals franchised his client and head coach Marvin Lewis re-committed to the 4-3 defense, the club announced it is tendering Smith a one-year contract that basically takes him off the market when free agency begins March 2 because another team would have to give up first-round draft picks in 2007 and 2008 if the Bengals didn’t match the offer.

If the Bengals don’t get a multi-year deal with Smith by July 15 for a lower salary cap count, they have to keep the one-year contract for $8.6 million on their cap for the rest of this season. That salary comes from the average of the NFL’s five richest deals for defensive ends.

They could reach a longer deal with Smith after July 15, but can’t sign until after the season.