Less than a half hour before the opening of the new league year and free agency, the Bengals kept the core of their defensive line in tact by signing defensive end Robert Geathers to a three-year contract worth $9.5 million.

By remaining in Cincinnati, Geathers remains the player with the most tenure on the team with 107 starts in 137 games. He will be going into his 10th season after being a fourth-round pick in 2004 and is the only player remaining from the ’05 team that won the AFC North.

“I was a little nervous (about the free agency process) but I’m happy to be back. It means a lot. Hopefully I can finish my career with the team that drafted me,” said Geathers, who will turn 30 on Aug. 11. “It’s good to have everyone back (on the defensive line). We have the chance to do something special and win some playoff games.”

Geathers started every game at left end last season, playing 59 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season and playoffs. He had 45 tackles in the regular season along with 3.0 sacks and 18 quarterback pressures.

For the past two years the defensive line has been the strength of the team but after accounting for 42 of a team record 51 sacks last year, four players had the potential to enter free agency but the Bengals have been proactive in locking up as many as possible before the deadline.