With Michael Johnson set to receive a Cincinnati Bengals’ salary record of $11.175 million under a one-year franchise tag, it is becoming increasingly possible that fans won’t see Johnson in orange and black stripes in 2014 or beyond.
Johnson spoke with Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon on Sirius NFL Radio earlier this week about this upcoming season and a possible contract extension that is out of his control.
“I’m the right defensive end and I’ll play in every game and do my best for the team. I can’t worry about that and prepare myself day in and day out. There is no ill will on either side, it’s a business. They have to make these moves much like players have to do the same thing. I have to go out and perform. The bottom line is to help the team win.”
With Johnson collecting a sizeable paycheck for defensive ends, and the possibility of another solid year with the defense front the Bengals will be fielding, there are a lot of intangibles going against signing Johnson to an extension:
Under the NFL salary cap, the Bengals have a team cap of $137 million in 2013. Even though the franchise tag isn’t a perfect basis to determine a long-term contract, it does have some correlation to what that player is worth and for Johnson, it’s a lot. The best DE comparison for an extension, of which Johnson would assuredly want more than four years, is DE Chris Long of St. Louis.
Last season, Long had nearly identical numbers to Johnson; 11.5 sks, 25 tkls and 8 asts to Johnson’s 11.5 sks, 35 tkls and 17 asts. In 2011, the year before he got an extension, Long had a career year with 13 sks. Long was rewarded with a five-year $60-million contract with $36 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus.
If Johnson can put up numbers close to what he did last season, he can bring in a contract very similar (if not slightly above) Long’s that would average close to $12 million a year. For a Cincinnati team that will be looking at locking up both Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap – who are unrestricted free agents after this season – and having the first year to talk extensions with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, someone is going to be the odd man out and a possible $11 million a year for Johnson may very well be it.
2. DE roulette
After the 2012 NFL draft, the Bengals now have second-round pick Margus Hunt, veterans Robert Geathers, Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry to play in place of Johnson. When the Bengals selected Hunt, it became obvious that the team is preparing for the dismissal of one of its defensive lineman after the 2013 season. With Geathers and Gilberry signed through 2015, Dunlop and Johnson are the two fighting for the last spot.
The monetary reasons are an obvious score against Johnson. After that, it comes down to performance of the other two players, Dunlap and Hunt. If Hunt can get up to NFL speed after 2013, the Bengals might go with a Hunt-Dunlap rotation moving forward.
Dunlap’s inability to play an entire season makes him a question mark with his durability. That being said, Dunlap’s ability as a DE are very good considering his breakout rookie season where he achieved a career-high 9.5 sacks. He has been steadily reliable ability-wise with 4.5 sacks in 2011 and 6.0 in 2012 while playing 12 and 14 games respectively.
With some durability questions and going into free agency in 2013, this will be the most crucial season for Dunlap. If he finds himself on the field every week and making considerable contributions, he will more than likely be getting an extension after the season. However, even if Dunlap has just an average season (say 6.0 sacks), if Hunt can become a formidable DE, than the team might just sign Dunlap at a lower price and have a very solid DE lineup.
There is no doubt that the Bengals have some defensive line personnel questions to resolve following the 2013 season and although difficult, they are very good questions to have. It shows that the Bengals’ draft and player development has been excelling the last few years and Michael Johnson is exhibit A. Whether or not the team chooses to lock up one of their premier rushers won’t be decided until after this season, but come Sept. 8 fans should expect an excellent defensive showdown.