The Bengals designated defensive end Michael Johnson as the team's franchise player on Friday, guaranteeing him $11.5 million next season if he accepts the one-year tag and giving them the power to retain the free agent by matching any offer he might accept from another team.
Coach Marvin Lewis said he'd prefer to negotiate a multi-year contract with Johnson.
"Obviously we are committed to re-signing Mike," said Lewis, "and this move is part of the process to keep a young and promising defense together. Mike has worked hard to improve himself every year during his time as a Bengal, helping us to the postseason three of four years. We have every reason to believe he will continue to grow as a leader and productive player."
"This guy has come up in our system, he plays about 85 percent of our snaps, and he's the kind of guy we love to have around," said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
If Johnson signs the Bengals' franchise-player offer, he would be the highest-paid player on the team.
If Johnson agrees to terms with another team and the Bengals don't match the offer, the team signing Johnson would be required to give the Bengals two first-round draft choices.
Johnson had 11.5 sacks last season 11.5 sacks, second-most by any Bengal since 1983 (exceeded only by DT Geno Atkins' 12.5 last season).
The 6-7, 270-pounder from Georgia Tech was a Bengals third-round draft choice in 2009. He has played in every regular-season and postseason game of his Cincinnati career (67 total), and he has regular-season career totals of 23 sacks, two interceptions and 18 passes defensed.