Nothing is official yet, but it appears that the Cincinnati Bengals are planning to use their franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Johnson was set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12, and was one of two prime candidates to receive the tag along with offensive tackle Andre Smith, according to Josh Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle.
If/when Johnson is officially given the tag, he will be locked into a one-year contract at a salary worth the average of the top five players at his position -- -$11.175 million in this case. Johnson was making much less off the third-round rookie contract he signed in 2009. He proved his worth with 11.5 sacks last season among his 52 total tackles.
The Bengals will likely now turn their attention to Smith, who was the team's No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft. The team has $54 million to work with under the salary cap, according to Kirkendall, giving them a lot of flexibility to re-sign the big right tackle. Smith has fought off injuries and work ethic concerns from early in his career to become a staple along the Bengals' offensive line.
UPDATE: Scratch out that "not official" part.
We have designated DE Michael Johnson as the team’s franchise player for 2013. #Bengals— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) March 1, 2013