Wide receiver/kick return specialist Brandon Tate will be back with the Bengals in 2014, and safety Taylor Mays is reportedly set to return, too.
But, as expected, defensive end Michael Johnson will be playing elsewhere.
Several media outlets have reported that Johnson will sign a 5-year, $43.75 million deal with Tampa Bay when the NFL’s new year and free agency begin Tuesday at 4 p.m.
The Bengals announced Tuesday morning that they have re-signed Tate. Terms of the deal were not announced but it is expected to be a one-year deal. Tate also signed a one-year deal last offseason and his contract was set to expire Tuesday afternoon. The Bengals originally acquired Tate on waivers from New England prior to the start of the 2011 season. Tate was a third-round draft choice of the Patriots in 2009 out of North Carolina.
While Tate has caught just 14 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown in his three seasons in Cincinnati, he has been the Bengals’ main kickoff and punt returner. He averaged 26.1 yards on 35 kick returns last season to go along with 9.3 yards on 36 punt returns. He did not turn the ball over on any of his attempts in 2013.
"We’re glad to get back one of our core special teams players," said Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. "Brandon’s numbers speak for themselves, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I think this could be a real breakout year for him."
Tate is first in Cincinnati franchise history with a career kickoff return average of 24.83 yards and is second in career punt return average at 9.87 yards.
Jason La Canfora reported late Wednesday night the team has re-signed Mays, who spent the past three seasons with the Bengals after playing for San Francisco as a rookie. He made 19 tackles in eight games last season before going on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury.
The (impending) loss of Johnson to the Buccaneers shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. Johnson turned down a long-term extension offer from the Bengals last offseason, which they in turn gave to Carlos Dunlap. Johnson instead played last season under the one-year franchise tag salary of $11.175 million and produced possibly his best all-around season despite his sack totals dropping from 11.5 in 2012 to 3.5 last season.
Johnson led the defensive line in tackles last season and was second in quarterback pressures behind Dunlap. He also had two forced fumbles and an interception.
Johnson’s contract with Tampa Bay will reportedly guarantee him nearly $26 million through the first three years of the deal.
A look at the Bengals free agency:
UFA: OT Anthony Collins, DB Brandon Ghee, OT Dennis Roland, DB Chris Crocker, LB Michael Boley, TE Alex Smith, P Zoltan Mesko.
RFA: LB Vinny Rey, WR Andrew Hawkins, WR Dane Sanzenbacher.
Re-signed: OG Mike Pollak, WR Brandon Tate, S Taylor Mays*
Signed with another team: DE Michael Johnson (Tampa Bay)*