The Cincinnati Bengals "tagged" former Missouri Tigers defensive end Justin Smith its franchise player on Thursday. Smith now has the option to play for the Bengals in 2007 for a salary equal to the average of the top five defensive ends in the NFL for the previous season. He would be guaranteed at least $8,644,000 next season.
If Smith does not agree to the contract offer before March 2, he will become a restricted free agent. In such a case, other teams will have the chance to offer Smith a deal. The Bengals would be allowed to match that offer, but if they decide not to, the team signing Smith would have to exchange their 2007 and 2008 first-round draft picks to Cincinnati as compensation.
"This move helps us keep our core players together, and it gives us an opportunity to continue negotiating for a longer-term contract with Justin," coach Marvin Lewis said.
Smith was the Bengals fourth overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft. He’s led the team in tackles the past six seasons. Last season, he posted 110 tackles and 7 ½ sack. In six seasons with the team, Smith has recorded 41 sacks, ranking fourth all-time in club history.