As of Monday, it is unofficially official that this is Michael Johnson’s last season as a Cincinnati Bengal. With the signing of DE Carlos Dunlap to a six-year extension at the tune of $40 million and the closing of negotiations with players under franchise tag the very same day, chances are all but certain Michael Johnson will depart for free agency after the ’13 season.
I have one question – why?
Don’t get me wrong, I think Dunlap is a really good defensive end. I’ll agree that he is in the upper half of the league, but $40 million for six years? He did come out his first season and set a franchise record for rookies with 9.5 sacks, but his inability to stay healthy has kept him from playing an entire season in each of the last three years; and that is where I have the problem.
I remember hearing something a few years ago that New England players said about Bill Belichick reiterating emphatically that being on the field every week and contributing makes winners. You can’t contribute if you’re not on the field. For Dunlap, that is his Achilles heel.
Even though the most games he missed were four in 2010 and 2011 (two in 2012), Dunlap’s numbers do reflect that with 6.0 sacks last season, and even lower still with 4.5 in ’11. His rookie season was pretty rare with 9.5 sacks and only 19 tackles; as remarkable as it was, it’s more of an statistical outlier.
He is a solid player who sometimes gets out of his gaps and plays carelessly, but when he’s on he can be one of the best.
But do you pay an employee, who can be absent minded at times and doesn’t show up to work every day, above average wages? Not the best example, but you get the point.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have a top-five pass rusher in Michael Johnson who has played every game for the past four seasons and finished with a career high 11.5 sacks, getting ready to walk out the door after this season. Before this year, his numbers weren’t stand out, but he has progressed into a well-rounded defender while Dunlap’s development hasn’t blossomed as well.
It is unrealistic to think both players would be back after this season with the team looking to sign another elite rusher, Geno Atkins, and I believed Johnson to be the odd man out in my last article. I figured the team would move forward with a Hunt-Dunlap combination IF Hunt comes around fast enough and/or Dunlap has a really strong season. Apparently the Bengals have a lot more faith in both Dunlap’s and Hunt’s ability than I believed.
The rub is that Dunlap is getting a lot of money for above average play. In the last installment, I said Johnson could get a deal similar to Chris Long of St. Louis (five-year $60 million) which is considerably more than Dunlap’s deal, but Johnson has been more reliable and productive. And maybe the issue was from the Johnson camp wanting more money than the team would offer, or maybe the offer was too low.
There is still the possibility Johnson and the Bengals can negotiate a deal, but the amount of money to have all three in the “Fisher-Price package” would cost the team around the $30 million range per season. At nearly a quarter of the team’s salary cap, there is just no justifiable way to spend that much.
With a lot of Dunlap’s new contract being front loaded at an estimated $20 million in the first two years, the Bengals are essentially paying Dunlap in advanced for future services. Hopefully, Dunlap will find a way onto the field every week and have results similar to his rookie season or else the Bengals will be paying league premium for a good backup defensive end.