CINCINNATI -- Running back Rudi Johnson signed a one-year,
$6.3 million contract Monday to stay with the Cincinnati Bengals
this season, a year after he set the team's single-season record
for rushing yardage.
Johnson set a Bengals record last season with 1,454 rushing
yards. He is still free to negotiate a long-term contract with the
team, and he says he wants to do that. He was paid $1.8 million in
Johnson became a free agent March 2, but the Bengals designated
him their franchise player Feb. 15, meaning they could retain him
by matching any offer sheet he signed with another team. Under the
NFL's collective bargaining agreement, a franchise player is paid
the average of the top five salaries of players at the same
position the prior season.
The deal allows the Bengals to keep Johnson while they see
whether Chris Perry, their top draft choice in 2004, will develop
into their running back of the future. Perry was sidelined for much
of his rookie season by injuries.
Johnson broke the team rushing record that Corey Dillon, now
with the New England Patriots, set with 1,435 yards in 2000.
Johnson set another Bengals record with 361 carries, exceeding
Dillon's 340 in 2001.
Johnson also tied the team record with five 100-yard rushing
games in a season and led the Bengals with 12 touchdowns.
Although Johnson wants a long-term deal, the Bengals have been
more inclined to take it one year at a time. The Bengals are trying
to overhaul their defense in the offseason, a higher priority than
investing more money on running backs.
Johnson emerged during the 2003 season when Dillon injured his
groin and had to share the position. The Bengals traded the
disgruntled Dillon to New England after the 2003 season, but
weren't sold on Johnson as his replacement. The Bengals gave him a
one-year contract for 2004 instead of a long-term deal, and drafted
Perry out of Michigan with the 26th overall pick last April.