Qualifying offer worth $6.323 million
The decision by Johnson, who is expected to return the paperwork to Bengals officials on Wednesday, represents a dramatic change of heart for the four-year veteran. Johnson had earlier indicated that, if Cincinnati imposed the "franchise" designation, he would not sign it and would sit out the 2005 season.
But the "franchise" qualifying offer afforded him more than six million reasons to change his mind. For a running back, the qualifying offer, which essentially represents a one-year proposal, is worth $6.323 million.
Signing the deal guarantees the money and means that the Bengals cannot rescind the designation at a later date. It also means that Johnson is off the market in terms of being able to talk to other clubs.
Cincinnati officials have steadfastly contended they want to eventually sign Johnson to a long-term deal. They still have the prerogative to do so, although any multi-year deals for "franchise" players must be signed by March 16, or the two sides must wait until July 15 to resume negotiations.
Johnson, 25, has emerged the past two seasons as one of the NFL's top power backs. Used infrequently before the second half of the 2003 campaign, his playing time was increased when then-starter Corey Dillon was injured, and he responded by rushing for 957 yards. Last season, Johnson became the Bengals workhorse, carrying 361 times for 1,454 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The former Auburn standout was a fifth-round choice in the 2001 draft. For his career, he has 2,478 yards and 21 touchdowns on 593 attempts. Johnson also has 42 receptions for 264 yards.
Cincinnati used its first-round choice in 2004 on tailback Chris Perry, but the former University of Michigan standout played sparingly because of injuries. The Bengals will continue to work with Perry, grooming him for the backup role, or possibly to assume the starting job if Johnson plays under the one-year qualifying offer in 2005, then departs the following year.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .