Moving quickly to retain a player they consider key to their future, the Cincinnati Bengals have matched the restricted free agent offer sheet that kicker Shayne Graham had signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.
It was a move one Cincinnati coach termed "a no-brainer" and allows the Bengals to keep some long-overdue stability at a position where they had suffered until Graham arrived last summer just before the start of the season.
To help create cap room to match the deal, the Bengals released six-year veteran corner Artrell Hawkins.
Cincinnati technically had seven days to decide whether to match the offer sheet. That team officials took so little time to deliberate is reflective of Graham's importance to the Bengals and to head coach Marvin Lewis. Had the Bengals declined to match the offer, Graham would have moved on to the Jaguars on a five-year, $6.5 million contract and Cincinnati would not have received any compensation from Jacksonville.
The Bengals now assume the terms of the offer sheet, which call for Graham to receive a $2 million signing bonus. He will have base salaries of $700,000 (for 2004), $700,000 (2005), $900,000 (2006), $975,000 (2007) and $1.225 million (2008). In the final two years of the contract, $500,000 is each season's base salary.
There is also a stipulation that, if Graham leads the league in field goal accuracy and the Bengals win their division, the entire contract becomes guaranteed.
From a percentage standpoint, Graham had a franchise-record season in 2003, converting 22 of 25 field goal attempts. The Bengals signed Graham just before the start of the '03 season after he was released by the Carolina Panthers. He had previously played with Buffalo (2001) and Carolina (2002).
Jaguars kicker Seth Marler, a rookie, converted just 20 of 33 field goal tries in 2003 and the team is seeking a possible replacement for the former Tulane standout.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.