The Bengals have applied the franchise tag to defensive end Michael Johnson. Which means that right tackle Andre Smith will be headed to unrestricted free agency, absent a new deal. Soon.
Smith, a first-round pick in 2009 who had the final two years of his rookie deal disappear when the Bengals opted not to pay him a $4.75 million option bonus in 2011, will be able to negotiate with other teams as of March 9, and to sign elsewhere on March 12.
Of course, the negotiations already have begun. Tampering, yes, but they’re happening. And word is that Smith is looking for a deal that pays out $9 million per year.
In hindsight, perhaps the Bengals should have paid the money and kept Smith. He has become in recent years a very good player. And if he gets what he’s looking for on the open market, Smith’s much-maligned rookie deal will look a lot better in hindsight.
After all, how many pre-2011 first-round picks who aren’t busts get to the open market after only four years?