The 27-year-old Johnson is a good defensive end with plenty of good years left in him, but his sack total declined from 11.5 in2012 to 3.5 in 2013, and it sounds like the Bengals will decide that they don’t want to spend the kind of money it would take to keep him around for 2014.
Background: Johnson was franchised last year for $11.175 million. He happy took that check to the bank. He didn’t produce the sacks of his 11.5 in 2012, but was still a disruptive force on the edge with 3.5 sacks, 9 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. ProFootballFocus graded him the top defensive player on the team last season, particularly dominant in rush defense. He will be one of the top free agents on the market.
Odds he returns: 20%
Explanation: Last season when the Bengals negotiated with Johnson and couldn’t come to terms, they instead gave that cash ($7.78 million APY) to Carlos Dunlap. When Geno Atkins gets 5 years/$55 million, you can forget paying another player on the line the amount of cash Johnson will warrant long term. Somebody will throw a load of money (somewhere between Dunlap/Atkins) at Johnson and the Bengals likely can’t afford to match it. They could decide to re-franchise Johnson and take the big hit one more season. That’s about the only way he returns in my estimation.
Just for the record, I hope Greg returns. But this "Charles Johnson money" I read he wanted has me worried. We have a lot of different needs and holes to fill. But Michael Johnson is at least someone to keep an eye on. He'll be much cheaper and would probably be the starter opposite CJ the minute he signed (if GH left). I hope the team has a good feel on how Frank Alexander is developing because that could be a factor on the Hardy decision as well.