<
>

Bengals FB Johnson signs $7.5M extension

Three-year veteran fullback Jeremi Johnson on Thursday completed a six-year, $7.528 million extension with the Bengals that, in new money, made Johnson the highest-paid fullback in football.

The contract was a significant achievement for Johnson and his agent, Peter Schaffer, who had to work overtime to push the envelope on getting a fullback paid. Prior to Johnson's deal, only 15 fullbacks made $1 million or more a season.

"It's my first home,'' Johnson said, an hour after signing the deal at Paul Brown Stadium. "I'm in the first [draft] class of coach [Marvin] Lewis. That's a special group. I take pride in being in his first class.

"I grew up down the road. I've been watching the Bengals -- that's the only professional team I've been around my whole life. Basically, you can say it's like a dream come true to have a whole career here."

Johnson also flirted briefly this offseason with signing a restricted free-agent offer sheet with the San Francisco 49ers. He wanted to stay in Cincinnati long-term, and had agent Peter Schaffer continue negotiations.

The new deal replaces his 2006 contract and adds five more years, keeping him signed through 2011. He'll get an average of $1.5 million per year.

"The negotiations still had some momentum [after the tender signing], and I'm very excited we've been able to secure Jeremi for the long term," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's a fantastic blocker and also a threat as a receiver. Jeremi wanted to get this deal done, he wants to be a part of what's happening here, and that's a big plus for our team."

Johnson is a powerful 265-pound lead blocker who has cleared the way for star tailback Rudi Johnson to average 1,289.7 rushing yards over the past three seasons. He has also improved dramatically as a pass blocker over the last two years and, when injuries depleted the Cincinnati backfield, he filled in admirably as a third-down tailback.

A fourth-round choice in the 2003 draft, the former Western Kentucky standout is a prototype of how the fullback position is defined by most teams now. He has just 69 "touches" in three seasons, including only 26 rushes in 48 appearances, but is a selfless performer. While he might not seem as critical a cog to the potent Cincinnati offense as the stars who share his surname, Rudi Johnson and wideout Chad Johnson, the young fullback is a key component.

"He's athletic and can do a lot of things," Rudi Johnson said. "He's happy and I'm happy.''

Also on Thursday, quarterback Carson Palmer, still rehabilitating from surgery to repair the two ligaments that he tore in his left knee during the Bengals' wild card-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh, threw briefly at the team's complex. Palmer is still only in the jogging phase of his recovery, and a timetable for his return remains uncertain, but he has suffered little swelling in the knee and had no setbacks.

Palmer is aiming for a mid-June mini-camp for returning to his normal throwing routine and is still hopeful of being in the starting lineup for the regular-season opener.

Lewis also said Friday that the Bengals remain interested in linebacker LaVar Arrington, who agreed last month to give up $4.4 million on his contract in order to leave the Washington Redskins as a free agent.

Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton, The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.