NFL free agency begins this week. While the Bengals’ main focus may be on their unrestricted free agents, there is one restricted free agent the team has in backup center/guard T.J. Johnson.
According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the restricted tenders have been set, and it won’t cost the Bengals too much to tender Johnson’s contract.
Official restricted free agent tender values for 2017:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 6, 2017
1st round: $3.91M
2nd round: $2.746M
Low/original round: $1.797M
The Bengals will likely go with the lowest tender, if they tender Johnson at all, which would cost them about $1.8 million next season. Johnson entered the NFL in 2013 as a seventh-round draft pick out of South Carolina. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad before making the final roster in each of the past three seasons.
But Johnson did not earn an accrued year of experience toward NFL free agency in 2013 because he was not on a 53-player roster, a Reserve/Injured list or a Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list for the required minimum of six games that season.
That’s why he’s now a restricted free agent vs an unrestricted free agent, which would prevent the Bengals from tendering him unless they used the franchise tag. That’s obviously not happening for a backup center, though Johnson has improved enough over his career that he’s a regular gameday active now. He even spelled incumbent starter Russell Bodine for a series this past season, though Bodine kept his spot, despite again being among the league’s worst centers.
Perhaps the Bengals will actually give Johnson more of a chance to compete for the starting job this year if the club brings him back. It’s also possible the club declines to tender Johnson but re-sign him to a cheaper deal. Almost $2 million to pay for a backup lineman is a lot, especially when the starter, Bodine, is also set to make close to $1.8 million next season.
Update: Per Bengals.com, it’s expected the Bengals will tender Johnson a one-year offer of $1.8 million.