Joseph optimistic about contract talks

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have quietly opened negotiations with one of their biggest pending free agents of 2011.

Cincinnati has reached out to starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph and his representation in an effort to reach a long-term extension. According to Joseph, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, the Bengals have made two proposals in the past week.

Joseph, 26, is one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks and could be a hot commodity next offseason if he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He recorded 69 tackles and six interceptions for Cincinnati's fourth-ranked defense in 2009.

"It shows positive signs," Joseph said of the negotiations. "It's one of those things that hopefully we can get it done. But if not, I'm here for the rest of this season and I'm focused on this season. I'm not that worried about it, but it's one of those things you'd like to get behind you."

Joseph is encouraged but knows there are no guarantees. Good cornerbacks are worth a lot of money in the NFL and large extensions have been difficult to hammer out due to the uncapped year. The "30-percent rule," in particular, is affecting a lot of players and adding difficulty to contract talks. Joseph said Tuesday that's also a hurdle in his negotiations.

The Bengals won the AFC North last year and have a solid tandem of young cornerbacks with Joseph and Leon Hall. But in order to keep this pair together beyond this season, the Bengals and Joseph first have to reach a long-term deal.

Joseph has participated with the Bengals this offseason in both voluntary and mandatory workouts.

"The main thing is to stay healthy and be positive about it," Joseph said. "I'm not going to cause a distraction or anything. I want to be here and working with the rest of the guys."

James Walker covers the AFC North for ESPN.com