Michael Johnson, one of the hottest free agents on the open market, has reportedly come to terms on a new five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Josina Anderson of ESPN first reported the news Tuesday:
More specifics: Sources: DE Michael Johnson has agreed to a 5-year, $43.75M deal with 24M guaranteed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 11, 2014
Michael Johnson's deal with the Bucs can't be announced until 4pm. or after today, though both sides have an understanding.— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 11, 2014
The 27-year-old was selected in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and played his entire career with the franchise.
Johnson flashed strong promise right off the bat, but struggled to contribute on a consistent basis. The Georgia Tech product finally broke out in his fourth season, when he racked up 52 combined tackles, 11.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception.
That performance, coupled with his tremendous upside, earned Johnson a much-deserved franchise tag from the Bengals in the offseason, making him the highest-paid member of the team with an $11.1 million salary.
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Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator of the Bengals at the time, had nothing but praise for the lineman, per Mike Garafolo and Joe Reedy of USA Today: "He's hard-working and a great team player. He's an outstanding run defender in addition to his pass rush production."
However, Johnson by and large failed to live up to expectations in 2013. His numbers dipped significantly, as he recorded just 3.5 sacks over 15 games.
That drop in sacks is of major concern, especially considering the athletic freak played along a star-studded line that featured Geno Atkins (for nine games) and Carlos Dunlap drawing much of the attention. Johnson dealt with plenty of one-on-one situations and was not able to capitalize.
It was clear early on in the free-agency process that he would not be heading back to Cincy, per Ben Goessling of ESPN:
#Vikings have called to express interest on Bengals DE Michael Johnson, too. Told he's not going back to Cincy.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) March 8, 2014
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus attempted to warn the Buccaneers about the dangers of signing a tantalizing talent like Johnson, noting that his physical ability has yet to consistently match up to what he does on the field:
Michael Johnson really is the walking definition of fools gold in free agency. Physical freak never quite lived up to it, but threatened to— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) March 9, 2014
The franchise was fortunate to lock up Johnson, however, as he had as many as six other suitors, according to Goessling:
League source says seven teams have called on Michael Johnson, including a few that run a 3-4 scheme. #Vikings will have competition.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) March 8, 2014
It remains to be seen which Johnson will show up to Tampa Bay: the dominant pass-rusher that uses his immense athleticism and powerful 6’7”, 270-pound frame to bully blockers and blitz past them off the edge, or the maddeningly inconsistent player with so much promise that never quite reached his potential with the Bengals outside of one above-average season.
Regardless, Johnson represents a chance for Tampa Bay to upgrade its ability to rush the passer and stop the run. Johnson can play in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, largely thanks to his massive size, powerful strength and unexpected speed.
A change of location could do Johnson some good, as he now has a chance to get a fresh start and get off on the right foot from Day 1. There is no guarantee that he’ll put up numbers equal to or better than he did in 2012, but any time a team has a chance to put a player with Johnson’s raw physical talent on the field, it has to take it.
Don’t blame the Buccaneers for attempting to swing for the fences with this signing, as they may just hit a home run.