CINCINNATI – The Bengals have had a plan of developing their own players and retaining them. Plans are great. Sticking to them and seeing them work is better.
Keeping defensive tackle Geno Atkins is now a priority the club can check off its honey-do list. The Bengals and Atkins came to terms Monday on a five-year extension, worth a reported $55 million. The $11 million average makes Atkins one of the three highest-paid defensive tackles in the game; only Ndamukong Suh of Detroit and Haloti Ngata of Baltimore with larger total contracts than Atkins among interior defensive linemen across the NFL.
“It means a lot to know that they believe in me. They drafted me in the fourth round and they believed in me. That’s going to show the younger guys that if you do the right things on and off the field that you will be rewarded, too,” Atkins said. “I feel like I’m a core guy and I help the defense to try to be the top defense, and I will try and push Coach (Marvin) Lewis’ message to the younger guys in the locker room.”
Atkins had one year remaining on his rookie deal and would have been eligible to become a free agent at the end of this season. The deal runs through the 2018 season and will reportedly pay Atkins $31 million through the first three years. He is the 12th player the Bengals have re-signed since the end of last season, including defensive end Michael Johnson to the one-year franchise tag of $11.175 million and defensive end Carlos Dunlap to a five-year, $40 million extension. They also re-signed veteran ends Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry to three-year deals, keeping together the most productive position group of the team.
The Bengals’ defensive line accounted for 43 of the team-record 51 sacks the defense tallied. Beyond sack numbers, the ability of the front four to consistently win against the run or pass sets up the rest of the defense, which has finished in the top seven of the NFL rankings three of the last four seasons.
Atkins was a fourth-round pick in 2010, the 120th player picked and the 14th defensive tackle taken in that draft. Suh was the No. 2 overall pick in 2010 and was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year that season. Both players have been named first-team All-Pro once and both have been named to the Pro Bowl twice. Atkins has played in all 48 games plus two playoff games in his career, with 33 total starts. He had 12.5 sacks last season to lead all interior defensive linemen in the league. He added four forced fumbles and led the Bengals (via coaches’ stats) with 15 tackles for loss and 35 quarterback pressures.
“I let my play do the talking, so I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” Atkins said. “A lot of guys look up to me, and if they need help, I’m going to coach them up a bit but I let my play do the talking.”
The signing is in line with similar moves the team has made in the past with players they consider foundations to the team. They have twice signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth to extensions, as well as cornerback Leon Hall, defensive tackle Domata Peko and center Kyle Cook.
“It continues what the (offseason) plan was initially, to make sure we retained and re-signed our players … continue with our young guys and keep focus on that, and coach them and get them better,” Lewis said. “Occasionally, there have been people who raise to me that ‘you have so much cap space,’ and I tried to ask people to be patient. Yeah, we do, and the cap space is there to use, and we’ve continued to use it, and we have a couple more to do as well. That’s the thing. The team has really stepped up, and by my mere layman calculations, we’ve been one of the top four or five teams in the league in spending. That’s a big deal. We’ve preserved our young players and we’ve preserved our core guys.”
Quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green will be heading into their contract years next season. The Bengals can’t start negotiating with them until next year but now that Atkins is signed they have positioned themselves well for the future.
“Geno has been a wonderful player for us, and we are excited to be able to reward his high level of play and to secure his future here in Cincinnati,” said executive vice-president Katie Blackburn. “Geno is a special asset – a great person as well as an exceptional player – and we want to continue investing in players that play at a high level and help us win.”