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Bengals reward Atkins with huge contract extension

The Cincinnati Bengals made a commitment to Geno Atkins and a statement to the rest of the players in the locker room Monday by signing the Pro Bowl defensive tackle to a five-year contract extension worth $55 million.

“It means a lot to know that they believe in me,” Atkins said. “That’s going to show the younger guys that if you do the right things on and off the field that you will be rewarded, too.”

Ever since the playoff loss in Houston eight months ago, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the team would focus on retaining and rewarding its own players rather than trying to reshape the roster through free agency.

The Atkins extension is the latest testament to that template as the 25-year-old, two-time Pro Bowler became the 12th player from last year’s team the Bengals have either re-signed or extended.

“It continues what the plan was initially, to make sure we retained and re-signed our players,” Lewis said. “Continue with our young guys and keep focus on that, and coach them and get them better. Geno has been one of those players since he got here.”

“He’s done a tremendous job, obviously in being productive on the field,” Lewis continued. “Even early on in practice, you knew he had a bright future ahead of him.”

Atkins has played in every game since being drafted in the fourth round out of Georgia in 2010. He not only led the Bengals in sacks last year, but his total of 12.5 was four more than any other interior lineman in the league.

He had been scheduled to earn $1.4 million in 2012, but the new contract will net Atkins $22 million this season in what is the second-largest contract extension for a defensive tackle in NFL history (Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata got $61 million over five years).

Atkins said that while there was no negotiating deadline in place, he is thrilled to have the contract finalized before the season begins Sunday in Chicago.

“It was important because I don’t have that weight over my head or any distractions about ‘are we talking midseason or at the end of the season?’ ” he said. “Now I can just have a clear mind and play fast and hard. I’m just going to go out there and play football and help the team go to a Super Bowl.”

Of the 12 players the Bengals re-signed or extended at a cost of more than $180 million, one-third of them are defensive linemen. Defensive end Michael Johnson signed the franchise tag that will pay him $11.175 million this year; defensive end Carlos Dunlap agreed to a six-year, $40 extension; and defensive end Wallace Gilberry inked a three-year, $6.75 million deal.

“With all this noise and attention comes a lot of responsibility,” defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. “Now everybody knows about you, so you have to go out and prove that you’re worth it.”

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