Contract Kicks In

Published 2:41 am Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Bengals tagged kicker Shayne Graham as their franchise player Monday, a move that gives the eight-year veteran the option to sign a one-year deal for a salary equal to the average of the five highest-paid kickers from last season.

It also saves the Bengals a bunch of money. The value of the franchise tag for kickers in 2009 is a salary of $2.48 million. If the team had named T.J. Houshmandzadeh as its franchise player, as many observers expected, the cost to designate a wide receiver jumps to $9.88 million.

Graham’s 85.6 percent career field-goal accuracy ranks fourth all-time in the NFL. He holds several Bengals kicking records, including consecutive field goals (21), season field-goal percentage (91.2) and consecutive extra points (158). He’s second on the Bengals’ career scoring list with 682 points.

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Graham, who in 2005 became the team’s first Pro Bowl kicker, also handles kickoffs.

‘‘I appreciate the Bengals’ recognition of my value to the team,’’ Graham said Monday 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.’’

Coach Marvin Lewis said the Bengals and Graham will continue negotiating a long-term deal.

Graham is due to become a free agent Feb. 27. The franchise tag means the Bengals can retain him by matching any offer made by another team, or allow Graham to sign with that team in exchange for two first-round draft picks.

‘‘Shayne has consistently performed at a high level for us, and we expect that same performance in 2009 and hopefully beyond,’’ Lewis said.

Houshmandzadeh, one of the few bright spots on an anemic offense last season, is headed for free agency. But Lewis said Monday’s announcement does not mean the team is giving up on signing the veteran wide receiver, who has said the odds are against him returning to Cincinnati.

‘‘We will also continue to talk with several of our other pending free agents in an ongoing attempt to re-sign them,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘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.’’

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 32, 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.