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It seems as if Michael Johnson already has two feet out the door with the Cincinnati Bengals. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, there is only a 20-percent chance the defensive end returns to the team and that would be via the franchise tag, slapping the team with another big hit for a second straight year.
Johnson is in search of a long-term deal like his teammates Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins recently received, but the team drafted Margus Hunt in the second round of the NFL Draft last year so Johnson is dispensable. So with a deal unlikely, teams in need of a pass-rusher should get their wallets ready.
Entering contract years in 2011 and 2012, he totaled 5.5 and 11.5 sacks, respectively, but the fifth-year player is coming off a down year in which he registered 3.5 sacks, his lowest total since 2010. Despite the numbers not being there, Johnson was still able to generate pressure and get his hits on opposing quarterbacks.
According to ESPN, Johnson could command upwards of $10 million per year. But which team will be willing to issue out a big paycheck?
The Minnesota Vikings seem to be the most likely landing spot. Johnson’s former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is now at the helm of the Vikings, and the team will likely lose their marquee pass-rusher Jared Allen to free agency. Minnesota ranks in the top 10 in terms of available cap space this offseason, so perhaps the Vikings will revamp their front seven with addition of Johnson.
Don’t count out the New England Patriots either. The Pats already have former first-rounder Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich at defensive end, but the team showed interest in Johnson last season before the Bengals franchised him and may be able to afford him given his statistical regression.
The Atlanta Falcons’ interest in Johnson has been speculated about since the Senior Bowl in January. Since the team lost John Abraham the defense has not been the same, and owner Arthur Blank has already stated his team needs to get tougher. That could begin with the addition of Johnson, who played his college ball at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
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