Geathers can earn maximum $33.7M with new deal

The Cincinnati Bengals on Wednesday secured one of their star young players for the future, with ESPN.com learning that the team has reached a six-year contract extension with defensive end Robert Geathers, the club's leading sacker in 2006.

The contract is worth $19 million in its first three years. The extension has a maximum value of $33.7 million. Geathers will earn $12.5 million in bonuses and will bank $14 million in the first year of the deal.

Without the extension, Geathers, a three-year veteran, would have been eligible for restricted free agency this spring. The Bengals would certainly have retained his rights by making him a one-year qualifying offer, but preferred the long-term extension, because Cincinnati views Geathers as a key part of its future.

ESPN.com reported several weeks ago in the "Tip Sheet" column that the Bengals have initiated talks on a long-term contract, noting that it would likely take an eight-figure bonus to persuade Geathers to bypass both his restricted and unrestricted free agent years. Cincinnati vice president Troy Blackburn and agent Bill Johnson of Atlanta-based ProFiles Sports have been working the past several weeks to complete the extension, and talks heated up the past few days.

"Robert has played like a premier pass rusher and now he is going to be paid like one," Johnson said on Wednesday afternoon. "The Bengals made it clear that, from both a professional and personal standpoint, keeping Robert was critical to them. They love him as a player and a person and they really stepped up and demonstrated that, especially for a guy who's only been in the league three seasons."

A fourth-round choice in the 2004 draft, Geathers posted 42 tackles and a career-high 10½ sacks in 2006 as the Bengals used him strictly as a situational rusher, primarily from the left side. The former University of Georgia standout actually started all 16 games in 2005, his second season in the NFL, but head coach Marvin Lewis felt that the team could maximize Geathers' value in 2006 by reducing his snaps.

For his career, Geathers has appeared in 46 games, including 17 as a starter, and has 116 tackles and 17 sacks. He is a quick, disruptive defender who only figures to improve even further the next few years.

Retaining Geathers was a key for the Bengals because their starting right end, Justin Smith, is eligible for unrestricted free agency. There have been some negotiations with Smith but, if he departs as a free agent, it could open the way for Geathers to move to right end, a more natural pass-rush position.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.