The Cincinnati Bengals continue to be one of the NFL's best when it comes to re-signing their best players.
The latest example comes in the form of star running back Giovani Bernard, who has agreed to a three-year extension that keeps him under contract through the 2019 season. USA Today's' Tom Pelissero and the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport were the first to break the news:
#Bengals are finalizing a 3-year, $15.5 million contract extension with running back Giovani Bernard, source said.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 8, 2016
The #Bengals have reached an agreement on a contract extension with RB Gio Bernard, source said (as @TomPelissero reported). 3 years, $15.5M— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 8, 2016
Top-10 "new money" APY among running backs for Gio Bernard. He'll make $6M+ in 2016. Deal up after 2019 season, when he'll be 28.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 8, 2016
Pelissero adds that Bernard will make $6 million this season and more than $9 million over the next two years. That's great money for any NFL back, but Bernard is more than worth it to the Bengals. According to Spotrac, the annual average of that $15.5 million over those three news years ($5.17 million per year) would rank as the 10th-highest average of any NFL back.
Originally selected in the second round out of North Carolina in the 2013 NFL Draft, Bernard was one of the picks acquired in the Carson Palmer trade back in 2011. Given how much of an asset Bernard has been since then, the Bengals made out pretty well with that trade, which also landed them the pick used on Alabama cornerback and current starter Dre Kirkpatrick.
Over his first three years in the NFL, Bernard has rushed for 2,105 yards on 495 carries (4.3 ypc) with 12 touchdowns. He's become one of the league's best dual-threat backs, catching 148 passes for 1,335 yards and five more scores.
That includes 730 rushing yards on 154 carries (4.7 ypc) and two scores with 49 catches for 472 yards this past season, which came while splitting time with fellow running back Jeremy Hill. Those two have become one of the NFL's best backfield tandems, and we'll get to see it for at least two more years as Hill is under contract through 2017.
Despite his 5'9", 205-pound frame, Bernard has been very durable while taking constant hits from far bigger athletes. He's missed just three games out of a possible 51 games (includes the playoffs) through three seasons. He's also a big reason why the Bengals have gone 33-14-1 since he arrived in Cincinnati, one of the best stretches in franchise history.
Though he's shared carries with Hill for the past two years, there's no question Bernard has been a very pivotal part of the Bengals offense. Over the last three seasons, only A.J. Green (253) has more catches than Bernard (148).
Now that both wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have left while tight end Tyler Eifert is out due to ankle surgery, Bernard figures to have an even bigger role in the passing game. This also means the Bengals can be more flexible with how they handle Hill's contract next year when extension talks open.
All of this is why the Bengals getting Bernard re-signed to a deal that pays him a just over $5 million per year on average from 2017-19 is a big win for the team and Bernard.