Michael Johnson (UFA): Johnson was scheduled to become a free agent last year, but the team applied the franchise tag on him this season, costing $11.175 million in cap space. Early projections for the franchise tag on a defensive end is $12.475 million. However, per NFL rules, if a player is franchised for a second consecutive year it'll cost them because Johnson's tag number increases 120 percent from the previous number. That puts Johnson's franchise tag at $13.41 million.
A bit much.
In fact, Johnson may regret not taking Cincinnati's $40 million offer that they ended up giving Carlos Dunlap when negotiations broke down last year, based on somewhat of a disappointing season (compared to expectations after an 11.5 quarterback sack season in '12).
Johnson is a fine defensive end, ranked by Pro Football Focus as the team's best run defender. However, you don't pay big money to good run defenders; those pay-days go to edge rushers in the passing game and Johnson left a lot to be desired. He generated 61 pressures this year on 575 pass rushes, which ranked No. 24 (among 4-3 defensive ends) with a 8.5 pass rush productivity scale.
Still think Johnson will get a significant contract this offseason; I just don't see it coming from the Bengals.
Anthony Collins (UFA): When Cincinnati had issues with their guards, the team moved Andrew Whitworth inside and gave Collins the starting job at left tackle. He didn't allow a quarterback sack in 330 pass rushes and only 12 pressures. However, he also scored negatively as a run blocker (-2.3).
Sure-handed left tackles in the passing game are coveted commodities in the pass-happy NFL. It wouldn't be surprising if Collins left Cincinnati for a big pay day. I'd also be surprised if the Bengals didn't make an effort to bring him back but money tied to other positions may force their hand.
If Cincinnati decides to use the franchise tag, it'll cost them $11.126 million (projected right now, not finalized).
Andrew Hawkins (RFA): If another team really wants Andrew Hawkins, they can sign him. However, because Hawkins is a restricted free agent this year, the Bengals would have seven days to match the offer. If not, Hawkins leaves and the Bengals receive compensation based on the tender that they offered him.
There are three tenders that the Bengals can offer Hawkins this offseason. They can use a first-round tender, giving Cincinnati a first-round pick as compensation if another team signs Hawkins away. That would cost the Bengals (projected) $3.02 million if he stays in Cincinnati (he was paid $555,000 this season). The other tenders are a second-round tender ($2.12 million) and original-round tender ($1.389), which would give Cincinnati no compensation because Hawkins was undrafted free agent.
Here's a complete look at the Bengals that are entering free agency this year:
DE Michael Johnson (UFA)
OT Anthony Collins (UFA)
WR Andrew Hawkins (RFA)
S Chris Crocker (UFA)
S Taylor Mays (UFA)
WR Brandon Tate (UFA)
CB Brandon Ghee (UFA)
LB Vincent Rey (RFA)
OG Mike Pollak (UFA)
TE Alex Smith (UFA)
WR Dan Sanzenbacher (RFA)
OT Dennis Roland (UFA)
P Zoltan Mesko (UFA)
DT Ogemdi Nwagbo (UFA)