- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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On Tuesday evening, the Bengals officially made Johnson their Corey Dillon-type back by giving him a five-year, $26 million contract that gives him $12 million in guarantees and pays him $16 million over the first three years.
Johnson was signed to the contract Wednesday.
"I'm the new and improved," Johnson said late Tuesday. "It shows how much they wanted to be committed. This is something I've been wishing for all of my life."
The deal is structured in such a way that Johnson should be able to make all $26 million. The cap numbers for five years are level enough that the team won't have to release him later in his career for cap reasons. In the final year of the contract in 2009, Johnson's cap number is $4.8 million.
Dillon, who was traded to the Patriots last season for a second-round choice, had a five-year, $26 million contract that had $10.5 million in signing bonus money in 2001 after a painful, nasty negotiation.
All talks involving Johnson and the Bengals were pleasant because Johnson isn't about challenging team authority. He's a back who focuses on precision and execution. A fourth-round choice in 2001 from Auburn, Johnson draws praise from his offensive line teammates for his ability to run plays the way they were drawn up in practice.
"I'm glad we got it over," Johnson said. "I didn't want to be on one-year contracts. Now I know where I'm going to be for the next five years. I'm glad this finally came true."
Johnson filled in for an injured Dillon in 2003 and rushed for 957 yards on 215 carries. His success gave the organization confidence enough to trade Dillon. Johnson followed with a Pro Bowl season in 2004. He rushed for 1,454 yards and ran for 12 touchdowns.
"He has been a very productive player, as well as a winning person, for our football team. He's to be commended for his part in keeping the core of our offensive unit together," coach Marvin Lewis told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Bengals named him their franchise player last month. Because Johnson gave them Dillon-like numbers rushing the ball, the Bengals decided to give him the same in salary.
By staying positive in negotiations, Johnson and his agent, Peter Schaeffer, tried to stress to the Bengals the importance of keeping the offensive skill players together. With Johnson, the Bengals have Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and others tied up through most of the remainder of this decade.
In the end, Johnson didn't want to be greedy. He could have held out for the five-year, $27.5 million deal given to LaMont Jordan, who played only 18 percent of the Jets' offensive downs. He was willing to take less than Jordan because he was happy with the financial numbers and happy to stay a Bengal for the next five years.
By getting the deal done by Wednesday, the Bengals will have the ability to franchise other players in future years.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
On Tuesday evening, the Bengals officially made Rudi Johnson their "Corey Dillon" back by giving him a five-year, $26 million contract that gives him $12 million in guarantees and pays him $16 million over the first three years.