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Bengals expected to tender ERFA T.J. Johnson

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The Bengals want to keep their roster intact, and that also applies to the second and third-string lineman.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are about to hit a critical free agency period that will greatly affect their ability to contend for a Super Bowl next season and maybe even beyond that.

While T.J. Johnson may not play much, if at all, he's still someone the Bengals want to keep for next season in a backup role. That's why's Geoff Hobson reports Johnson, the team's backup center, is expected to be tendered a $600,000 exclusive rights contract.

The Bengals originally selected Johnson out of South Carolina with the 251st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. During his redshirt senior year in 2012, Johnson started in all 13 games at center and set the University of South Carolina’s record for starts over a career. He was named to the Coaches All-SEC second-team and finished his career having started every game between 2009-12.

After joining the Bengals, Johnson spent his rookie season on the practice squad. In 2014, Johnson made the 53-man roster, played in four games (Games 3 and 12-14) and was inactive (coaches decision) for Games 1-2 and 16. He was active but did not play for Games 4-11 and 15.

This past season, Johnson again made the final roster and was active for 12 games, though he rarely saw any snaps with Russell Bodine getting all of the snaps there. The good thing about Johnson though is he's also been practicing at guard since joining the Bengals, enough so that his versatility is really what's helped him earn a roster spot over guys like Dan FranceTrey Hopkins, Tanner Hawkinson and Trevor Robinson over the past two years.

This year, Hopkins is back to battle Johnson for that final interior offensive lineman spot on next year's team, and that's if the team doesn't sign or draft any other linemen this offseason. Veteran lineman Eric Winston, who played both guard and tackle last year, is set to be a free agent, which means both Hopkins and Johnson may end up making the roster by default.

Either way, if the Bengals do tender Johnson, he'll be under contract for one more season.