Despite a record number 21 players receiving the franchise tag last spring, none of the 32 NFL teams have used the designation yet this offseason. But with the March 4 deadline looming, that's about to change. We've already gone through the likely candidates, but a league source tells CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora that the Bengals have indicated that they will franchise defensive end Michael Johnson.
Should Johnson sign the tender, he will make $11.18 million in 2013, though he and the organization have until July 15 to hammer out a long-term deal. The move also means right tackle Andre Smith will test free agency in the coming weeks.
The former Georgia Tech star was taken by the Bengals in the third round of the 2009 draft. Athletically, Johnson was considered a first-round talent but slipped down draft boards because he was wildly inconsistent in college. Johnson found that consistency in Cincinnati, where he racked up 11.5 sacks last season and, along with Geno Atkins, Domata Peko and Robert Geathers, comprised one of the league's best defensive lines.
In their free-agent rankings, ProFootballFocus.com had Johnson as the fourth-best edge defender behind Anthony Spencer, Michael Bennett and Israel Idonije. And now, he returns for at least one more season to a Bengals defense that was 10th in the NFL in 2012, according to FootballOutsiders.com.