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WOW! Bengals Franchise Stacey Andrews, RT


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As they advertised last week, the Bengals used their franchise tag in free agency Monday and opted to use it on youth and promise when they tapped offensive lineman Stacy Andrews.

Which means two defensive starters are likely headed to free agency in defensive end Justin Smith and free safety Madieu Williams when the market opens Feb. 29.

The tagging of Andrews, with a one-year tender of $7.5 million that represents the average of the top five offensive line salaries in 2007, is a stunning number for a player with 17 NFL starts and reflects what the club thinks of his 350-pound athleticism.

It is also a move endorsed heartily by perennial Pro Bowler Willie Anderson, the man that Andrews replaced for 11 games this season and is projected to start ahead of Andrews in 2008 at right tackle.


"I totally understand it. I own a business myself," said Anderson after the CEO of Think Big Inc., took a call from head coach Marvin Lewis on Monday morning. "I appreciate the call, but I've got no hard feelings. In this league, you have to sign up your good young players and we were in kind of an awkward position. If I don't hurt my knee, Stacy wouldn't have had a chance to display his wares and who knows what would have happened?"

Just last week Lewis had high praise for how left tackle Levi Jones battled through his injury to secure an alternate Pro Bowl berth while expressing confidence that Anderson showed in the last two games of the season he can return to form at age 33. The Bengals look prepared to keep three high-priced offensive linemen with a cap hit in the $19 million range.

They are barely a year and a half removed from signing Anderson and Jones to mega long-term deals that combined counted for nearly $13 million of the Bengals salary cap in 2007.

And the Bengals were reminded how much Anderson means to them when he settled them down and they ran the ball so effectively against the Jets and Browns. With Lewis banging the drum for the running game so loudly and so early, Anderson's presence is wanted and needed. Anderson reported Monday that the bone bruise in his knee that wiped out 11 starts is healed and that he'll be on the field for the start of May camps.


"I feel like I can go, but I know the team can't count on that," said Anderson, who thinks he's got three to four years left. "You've got a young guy like Stacy that they've spent all this time developing and he can play both guard and tackle. That was one of the stories in the playoffs; guys on the line stepping in for injured guys and not missing a beat."

Andrews, 26, a fourth-round draft pick who came into the NFL as a world-class track athlete with just 70 college football snaps, received his most experience this past season. Lewis has expressed confidence that Anderson and left tackle Levi Jones can overcome their injuries this upcoming season with the allure of Andrews that he provides insurance and versatility.

The club has been rocked by knee injuries to both Anderson and Jones, and his six other starts have come at left guard and right guard. Andrews isn't viewed as Jones' backup on the left side, but he moves to left guard when Andrew Whitworth moves from guard to tackle.

"Stacy has been a productive young player for us," Lewis in Monday's news release. "He has shown the flexibility to start and play well at a number of different positions on our line. This move helps us keep our core players together, and it gives us an opportunity to continue negotiating for a longer-term contract with Stacy."

The move very well could end the Bengals career of Smith, a first-round draft pick in 2001 and fourth on the Bengals all-time sack list with 43.5. But after Smith had a career-low two sacks last season, the Bengals opted not to franchise him for a second straight year at $10 million.

Which is no surprise to agent Jim Steiner. He said last week he expected Smith to go on the market untagged.

The agent for Williams, Kenny Zuckerman, said last week the Bengals have talked with him and they'll continue to talk. But no deal looked to be imminent.

The Bengals, who haven't been able to reach a long-term deal with Andrews for more than a year, won't be able to strike one with him after July 15.

According to the Bengals news release:

"The franchise-player designation means that the Bengals could retain Andrews by matching any offer sheet he would sign from another team and that if the Bengals declined to match a signed offer, the team signing Andrews would be required to give the Bengals its first-round choices in the 2008 and 2009 NFL Drafts."

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