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Bengals make Rudi Johnson franchise player

CINCINNATI (Feb. 15, 2005) -- The Bengals used their franchise tag on running back Rudi Johnson, who set a Cincinnati rushing record last season but couldn't secure a long-term deal.

By using the tag on Johnson, the Bengals can keep him for $6.3 million next season while waiting to see whether first-round draft pick Chris Perry pans out. A hamstring injury and a hernia essentially wiped out Perry's rookie season.

Although Johnson wanted a long-term deal, the Bengals were more inclined to take it one year at a time. The Bengals are trying to overhaul their defense in the offseason, a higher priority than investing more money in the running back position.

"This is the most responsible move we can make in pursuit of our goal to give our fans a playoff season and a run for the Super Bowl in 2005," coach Marvin Lewis said.

Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer, didn't return a phone message seeking comment. During negotiations, Schaffer indicated that Johnson might sit out the season rather than play under the franchise tag.

If he holds out, Johnson would lose out on the $6.3 million salary.

Johnson emerged during the 2003 season when Corey Dillon suffered a severe groin injury and had to share the position. The Bengals traded the disgruntled Dillon to New England in the offseason, but weren't sold on Johnson as his replacement. The Bengals tendered a one-year, $1.8 million offer instead of a long-term deal, and drafted Perry out of Michigan with the 26th overall pick last April.

Johnson ran for a club-record 1,454 yards and made the Pro Bowl this past season, when Cincinnati finished 8-8 for a second straight year. His 361 carries also topped Dillon's team record.

Perry appeared in only two games because of the injuries, and had hernia surgery last month. The Bengals couldn't afford to let Johnson leave as a free agent while they had questions about Perry's health.

The franchise tag gives the Bengals the option of matching any offer for Johnson, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 2. If they choose not to match another offer, the Bengals would get the other team's first-round draft picks in 2005 and 2006 as compensation -- a hefty price that precludes such a move.

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