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Jason La Canfora: "Appear to be significant difference in figures" between Atkins, Johnson and Bengals

Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson are talking with agents, as is Carlos Dunlap. In Atkins' case, the two sides are "miles apart," writes Jason La Canfora with

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Obviously the Bengals have a tremendous core of players, many of whom are approaching expiring contracts after this season. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is arguably the best defensive tackle in football. His contract will expire after 2013. Michael Johnson posted his best season with 11.5 quarterback sacks in 2012, his contract year. Cincinnati applied the franchise tag on him earlier this month with a $11.2 million salary in 2013.

And then you have Carlos Dunlap, who may possess the most natural attributes as a pass rusher (he's disruptive on most pass rushes in which he fails to generate a sack). We have yet to bring up A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, who will be free agents after 2014.

Paying these players, what figures to be top-dollar, won't just be a challenge for the Bengals. It'll be one of the first instances in franchise history to sacrifice monetary concern for sustained success, long after the run of consecutive appears in the postseason. It'll be the test of tests for the Bengals front office to ditch the application of old school.

And it doesn't appear to be starting strong.

Reports have surfaced since February that the Bengals have had conversations with agents of Atkins, Johnson and Dunlap.

According to Jason La Canfora, there appears to be "significant differences in figures" with Atkins and Johnson.

The agent community is still largely skeptical of the team's intent to spend after watching the Bengals let players walk in the past, hording unused cap space, opting not to compete at the higher level of free agency for outside talent. And, in rival front offices, some executives are watching closely, too, eyeing up Bengals with expiring contracts as potential targets next offseason, and beyond, and figuring there is no way this club keeps all the talent it has amassed.

La Canfora conjectures that the "numbers exchanged by the sides thus far are miles apart from what I've heard," making a reasonable case that Atkins will be labeled with the franchise tag next season.

...the reality is Haloti Ngata's $12.2-million-a-year deal with Baltimore in 2011, in which he made $27 million in the first year of the contract and $40 million over the first two years, has to be the floor here, in terms of numbers. Atkins has outperformed Ngata the past two seasons and could make the case for more cash.

Well. We knew that this wasn't going to be easy.