Love Me Tender...

The chess game with the market begins. The Bengals tender restricted free agent linebacker Rashad Jeanty, but they are letting tight end J.P. Foschi test the market as an unrestricted free agent. Expect tenders for linebacker Brandon Johnson and guard Evan Mathis in the coming days.

With the March 4 deadline less than a week away, the Bengals have begun the tender-offering process with those restricted free agents they'd like to retain the right to match offers. Here's the latest, following Thursday's moves.

J.P. FOSCHI (not tendered)

The Bengals told restricted free agent J.P. Foschi that he will not be tendered. That makes Foschi, 27, an unrestricted free agent. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told a reporter Thursday the team would not rule out bringing back Foschi at a lower salary. Ralph Cindrich, Foschi's agent, confirmed the Bengals won't tender Foschi but that both sides remain mutually interested in putting a deal together.

The Bengals don't want to be on the hook for the $1.101 million the tender offer would have cost had they gone that route with Foschi, who took over starting tight end duties this season after injuries struck the unit in training camp. But Foschi has value to the Bengals because they can use his blocking experience and improved receiving skills. Plus, he knows the system and Lewis is a systems-guy coach (he's brought back, among others, Keiwan Ratliff, Shaun Smith, Jeremi Johnson and Matt Sherry ahead of other available players).

Foschi, who signed late in training camp and overtook drop-prone Daniel Coats on the depth chart in the middle of the season, could generate some interest on the market. He established career highs with 27 catches, two touchdowns and 260 receiving yards, which were the most for a Bengals tight end since 2003 when Matt Schobel totaled 332. Foschi is just as likely to wind up back with the Bengals.

Coats also is a restricted free agent. The move to let Foschi test the market may portend a similar fate for Coats. Former starter Reggie Kelly, who missed 2009 with a ruptured Achilles, is an unrestricted free agent whom the team may try to bring back. Untested tight end Chase Coffman is still a project, and undrafted Darius Hill is behind Coffman. Matt Sherry has moved out of Cincinnati, so it's doubtful he'll be offered a contract. Also, the Bengals are thought to be interested in taking a tight end during the first two days of April's NFL draft.

RASHAD JEANTY (tendered)

Strongside linebacker Rashad Jeanty, coming off a broken leg in the playoff loss to the Jets, has received a low tender offer of $1.176 million. The signing of Jeanty to a larger amount by another team, without a Bengals match, would yield no draft picks because he was an undrafted free agent from the Canadian Football League.

Jeanty, a special teams cog who had a reduced linebacker role in 2009 following the drafting of Rey Maualuga, received a second-round tender worth $1.545 million last year. Both linebackers finished the season hurt.

Jeanty's reduced tender, which could make him attractive to teams who like the fact they don't have to give up a draft pick to sign him, could be an indication the Bengals will concentrate on re-signing weakside linebacker Brandon Johnson, who will command a larger tender offer, as much as 1.8 million, and left guard Evan Mathis.

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