According to multiple sources, the Cincinnati Bengals appear set to lose one of their coveted free agents, defensive end Michael Johnson. He is believed to have agreed in principle to a contract that would send him to the NFC South, joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive line.
The deal is reportedly worth $43.75 million over five years, and also includes $24 million in guaranteed money.
Johnson, a former third-round draft selection in 2009, became a regular starter for the Bengals in 2012, and has started 30 games in the past two seasons.
The Bengals attempted to work out a long-term deal for him last season, but when the two parties were unable to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement, the team placed the franchise tag on him.
Johnson had a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2012, as well as an interception. His sack total slipped substantially this past season, mustering just three and a half sacks, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson also registered 16 quarterback hits and 40 hurries, crediting him with 61 total pressures. The 61 pressures placed him 14th among 4-3 defensive ends in their data.
More significantly, he graded exceptionally well against the run, as did his fellow defensive end and soon-to-be-former teammate, Carlos Dunlap, who recently cashed in big with the Bengals along with Geno Atkins.
Even though the Bengals have quite a bit of cap space, given that their owner rarely likes to splurge either in free agency or on his own players, it’s still not surprising that the Bengals would be losing Johnson now.
With two players already highly invested in along the defensive line in Atkins and Dunlap, adding a third substantial contract there would place a disproportionate amount of financial interests in one position, and the Bengals will have many key players to re-sign over the next two offseasons.
More significantly, the Bengals are among the few teams that have a deep rotation of pass rushers. Robert Geathers, entering his 11th season, missed virtually all of last season, but should resume his starting spot this year.
Wallace Gilberry also proved highly effective last season, registering 7.5 sacks, and the Bengals already invested a 2013 second-round draft pick in Margus Hunt, who should take on a much bigger role this season.