Those old jokes about Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown supposedly being a miser too cheap to spend what it takes to win no longer seem to apply.
Brown has spent a lot of money expanding his scouting department in recent years, and he made another hefty investment this week.
The old-school, hands-on owner rewarded Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins with a five-year contract extension worth $54.755 million, including a $15 million signing bonus, making him the second-highest paid defensive tackle in NFL history behind Ravens Pro Bowl lineman Haloti Ngata.
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Atkins is regarded as the scourge of the AFC North, shooting gaps and bull-rushing blockers to set a franchise record with 12.5 sacks to go with 15 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles last season.
Instead of a scheduled $1.4 million base salary for 2013, Atkins is now due a $4 million base salary for 2013. He'll make a total of $36 million in the first three years of the contract.
As rich as the deal is with an $11 million annual average, it falls shy of Ngata's five-year, $61 million contract signed two years ago. Ngata is a larger, more established player at 6 feet 4, 340 pounds and his contract averages $12.2 million per year.
Ngata also trumped Atkins with a $25 million signing bonus and a $10 million option bonus for a total of $35 million in guaranteed money.
It's still an extremely respectable deal that continues to show a willingness from the Bengals to pay their core players after making the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.
Now that the Bengals have Atkins and defensive end Carlos Atkins ($40 million extension) locked up, they've likely set their sights next offseason on pursuing long-term contracts for their passing tandem of Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton.
That will follow their third year when they're eligible for new contracts under collective bargaining agreement guidelines for players signed under the new rookie salary system.
With the Atkins signing, the Bengals now rank in the top five NFL teams in cash player spending for 2013. That includes over $180 million total spent on new veteran contracts so far this year.
"Geno's extension is exciting news," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "It puts the issue of his future behind him and the club and allows his focus to be on football and on a great start to our season."
Like all NFL teams dealing with a $123 million salary-cap limit, the Bengals can't keep everybody they want to on their roster.
Defensive end Michael Johnson is expected to leave Cincinnati as a high-dollar unrestricted free agent after this season.
Johnson figures to cash in at a level similar to Dunlap and below Atkins, but his payday will probably happen in another NFL city.
Steelers need receiving targets
When in doubt, the Pittsburgh Steelers can always rely upon franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. A nagging question remains, though.
Who is Roethlisberger going to deliver spirals to this season?
They may miss him as a deep threat, though. Wallace's 64 receptions for 836 yards and eight touchdowns could be extremely difficult to replace. It's up to Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to make people forget about Wallace.