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Adam Schefter: Players With 4, 5 and 6 Years of Experience Will be Unrestricted Free Agents

A while back, before the lockout went into effect, the Cincinnati Bengals decided to not use their franchise tag on one of the players, like Johnathan Joseph and Cedric Benson, that they need to re-sign to have a successful 2011 season and beyond. Instead they decided to offer tenders to their four restricted free agents, Johnathan Joseph, Brandon Johnson, Brian Leonard and Nate Livings.

If the 2011 season followed the 2010 free agent rules, a player would require six seasons to be an unrestricted free agent. The Bengals took a chance and hoped that the 2010 rules would still apply so they knew that, even if they couldn't re-sign Joseph or Johnson, they would get something in return.

However, according to a recent Tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter, the league will not operate under 2010 rules when the lockout is finally lifted.

More at ESPN: If and when agreement is reached, all players with 4, 5 and 6 years of service are expected to be unrestricted free agents.less than a minute ago via UberSocial Favorite Retweet Reply

This is good news because it may be a sign that the lockout is coming to an end. This is not good news for the Bengals, though.

Now, both Joseph and Johnson are unrestricted free agents. If the Bengals can't re-sign Joseph or Johnson once the lockout is lifted, not only do they miss out on a player that they need to be successful in 2011 and beyond, but they will get nothing in return.

If the Bengals decide not to re-sign Dhani Jones, they'll move Rey Maualuga to the middle and they could use Brandon Johnson as an outside linebacker, where he has been successful in the past for the Bengals. Without Johnson, the Bengals have little to no experience at the outside linebacker position on the roster.

It's even more important that the Bengals re-sign Joseph. Both Leon Hall and Adam Jones are free agents when the 2011 season comes to an end. The Bengals need to re-sign Joseph to secure the future of the secondary. If they don't, they'll have to really scramble next year to figure something out and may find themselves in a very similar situation with Leon Hall, allowing themselves to lose two great cornerbacks in back-to-back offseasons.

I wonder if the price that would have come along with placing the franchise tag on Joseph sounds better to the Bengals now.