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Bengals Can Focus On Andre Smith And Other Free Agents

With Michael Johnson franchised, the Bengals can turn their focus on the other big-name free agent set to hit the market. But he shouldn't be the only one.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Once Michael Johnson signs his one-year deal as the team's franchise player, the fifth-year defensive end will receive over $11 million, all guaranteed. It's a significant jump from a four-year rookie deal as a third-round pick that paid $2.6 million with a signing bonus of $863,020. Cincinnati has until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal, which allows the slow burn of negotiations to take place at a more Bengals-friendly pace.

The franchise tag also allows Cincinnati to redirect their offseason focus to other players prior to the start of free agency.

+ Cincinnati can now focus on signing Andre Smith to a long-term deal, or at the very least focus on negotiations if an agreement is within reach. However we have a feeling, just a feeling, that Smith is looking for something close to left tackle money whereas the market for right tackles is significantly lower. The gap, if the previous statement has truth to it, could realistically be anywhere between $15-30 million.

Look at Andrew Whitworth's current deal, who may or may not be the team's best offensive lineman at this point. On August 31, 2011, Whitworth signed a five-year extension worth $31 million with $6 million guaranteed. He's scheduled to make $4.55 million this year with $5 million base in each of the final two years. Does Cincinnati want to keep Smith around Whitworth's deal? Just a thought.

Whatever Smith is, he's not a left tackle. In 2012 the right tackle led the team in sacks and quarterback pressures allowed, as part of an offensive line that ranked No. 28 according to Football Outsiders.

John Thornton made a great point on WLW's Sports Talk with Lance McAlister on Friday. Looking back at the contracts signed among first-round picks during the 2009 NFL draft, Andre Smith was clearly underpaid compared to the slotting system at the time.

4 Aaron Curry LB Six $60 Million $34 Million
5 Mark Sanchez QB Five $60 Million $28 Million
6 Andre Smith OT Four $26 Million $21 Million
7 Darrius Heyward-Bey WR Five $38.25 Million $23.5 Million
8 Eugene Monroe OT Five $35.4 Million $19.2 Million

Will that hurt the Bengals during this round of negotiations?

Originally Smith had signed a six-year deal worth $42 million, which included a weight provision. The final two seasons were scratched and the option years declined. If Cincinnati had elected to activate the final two years, Smith was scheduled to earn $3.5 million in 2013 and $8 million in 2014 with an addition $4.75 million option bonus. The decision was made in 2011, before Smith turned his career around after a disastrous opening. It was a justified decision... at the time.

Needless to say if the Bengals had pulled the trigger on the final two years in 2011, Smith would be signed through 2014 at a deal that we figure will be cheaper than the one he'll sign next.

+ Prior to the March 14 start to free agency, Cincinnati has a decent list on their offseason checklist to attend, which includes signing cornerback Adam Jones long-term. Jones signed a two-year deal in 2010 and followed that up with a one-year deal in 2012 that paid $700,000 in base with $250,000 in bonuses.

Jones had his best season with the Bengals last year, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 81.9 passer rating against receivers he covered. Though he didn't generate an interception, he still deflected seven passes, held the completion percentage against his opponents to 53.6 percent and allowed only one completion of over 30 yards.

If there were a ranking on players that the Bengals must sign, Jones would be No. 2 on our list.

We believe he'll be an easy signing. Jones appreciates Cincinnati giving him a chance three years ago, and honestly the cornerback has found a place in Cincinnati where his life has finally calmed down. Most Bengals fans completely accept him, despite his history and Jones, like every defensive player on the team, is under Mike Zimmer's charm. But a deal still needs to get done and the Bengals should be fair with Jones, who not only proved to be a productive cornerback last year, but an exciting punt returner.