The Cincinnati Bengals have used their designated franchise tag, and it's not on the player some expected.
On Monday, the team tagged kicker Shayne Graham for the 2009 season. Graham will be paid $2.483 million, the average salary of the top five kickers in the NFL from the previous season, to remain in a Bengals uniform.
"I appreciate the Bengals' recognition of my value to the team," Graham said in a statement. "I would have preferred to enter a long-term market value contract, either with the Bengals or through free agency.
"I will be committed to helping the
Bengals win football games in the 2009 season. I truly appreciate the support of my teammates and the great fans of Cincinnati."
Graham ranks fourth all time in NFL field goal accuracy at 85.6 in nine seasons. He would be allowed to negotiate with other teams, but that club would face the unlikely scenario of giving up first-round draft choices in 2009 and 2010.
"Shayne has consistently performed at a high level for us, and we expect that same performance in 2009 and hopefully beyond," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement. "We'll continue to speak with Shayne and his representatives about signing a longer-term deal."
It was possible that the Bengals could tag pending free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But the former Pro Bowl receiver would have cost just under $10 million to keep for one season, so Cincinnati likely will let Houshmandzadeh test free agency next week.
Houshmandzadeh, who signed a four-year contract worth roughly $3 million per year before the 2005 season, has not attended the team's offseason voluntary workouts the past two years because he felt he was underpaid. At age 31, he is on the older side for an NFL receiver, though he led the NFL in receptions in 2007 with 112.
The receiver led the Bengals in receiving last year with 92 catches for 904 yards and four touchdowns on a team that ranked last in the NFL in scoring and yardage. It was the first time in three seasons that Houshmandzadeh had less than 1,000 yards receiving.
Houshmandzadeh told ESPN's Bob Holtzman on Monday that there is a "90-something percent chance" he won't return to the Bengals.
"If they asked Carson [Palmer]'s opinion I would be back, but they didn't," Houshmandzadeh said. "Why would you give a guy 100-something million dollars and not ask his opinion?"
Houshmandzadeh said he also thinks Chad Johnson's days in Cincinnati are over.
Lewis said, "We will also continue to talk with several of our other pending free agents in an ongoing attempt to re-sign them. Some will want to test their value in the market, and we of course will look at the market for possible new players.
"But as I've said before, the best value for all sides tends to be when a team re-signs its own key free agents, and we will make every attempt to re-sign the players we consider most important for 2009."
James Walker covers the AFC North for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.