Last Thursday—while the Bengals were in Atlanta for a preseason matchup against the Falcons—ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that contract negotiations between the Bengals and quarterback tormenter Geno Atkins were heating up, with the organization making a renewed push to extend Atkins’s deal (which is in its final year) before the start of the regular season.
It was an interesting bit of news for a few reasons. Up until that point, all the scuttlebutt suggested that the Bengals were having continuous talks about extending Atkins as soon as possible (including prior to the start of this season), but that the two sides were still looking at a significant separation in terms of final figures (which makes sense). And while the general perception is that Atkins will garner the largest contract ever for a defensive tackle (which also makes sense) when he ultimately signs his next contract, it appears just as likely that this deal will be with the Bengals. The team has plenty of cap space, recognizes the type of superstar player they have in Geno, and seems prepared to pay whatever it costs to bring him back.
I spoke with Geno yesterday at Paul Brown Stadium following the team’s morning workouts, curious if he heard the chatter last week about a renewed push to get an extension done. Atkins has been steadfast this offseason that he doesn’t worry about all the contract talk—which he reiterated again Monday—but he admitted that he had heard the news last week. Atkins downplayed it for the most part, simply attributing the buzz to the fact that he spent time talking with his agent, Pat Dye, who is based out of Atlanta and was present at one of the team’s practices prior to Thursday’s game. Other media reports confirmed as much, with Pro Football Talk reporting that talks between both parties continue, but nothing is imminent. Unless Geno is in the dark or portraying Oscar-worthy chops, that was the vibe he gave off as well.
I also talked briefly with defensive end Michael Johnson, who—when asked how much he thought Geno’s next contract should be worth—chuckled and responded, “Whatever he wants."
Atkins, Johnson, and fellow defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap are very close and appear to have a good relationship on and off the field. They've also been a major topic of conversation this offseason, as it is unlikely that the team can afford to retain the trio of young, talented defenders after this year. In addition to Geno’s contract negotiations, Dunlap recently signed a five-year, $40 million extension, while Johnson is currently playing on a one-year franchise tag tender.
“We all have the mentality that we love to play together and would love to be together for the rest of our careers, but we also have the mindset that it’s a business and it’s gonna play out how it plays out,” Johnson said. “We have a good thing going and we could continue to be great for a long time. You selected the pieces, you laid the foundation—keep it going. Don’t let the pieces go. So we’ll see about that.”
As for Geno specifically, Johnson—like the rest of us—has nothing but glowing remarks.
“Whatever he gets, it’ll be well deserved, and I’m sure he’ll be thankful for it and he’ll continue to go out and work just like he did day one,” said Johnson.
Atkins did offer his thoughts on one impending cliffhanger: the end of Breaking Bad, which aired the first of its final eight episodes this past Sunday.
“I think he’s gonna escape,” said Atkins, referring to the uncertain fate of main character Walter White.
I suppose we’ll see about that, too.