After a season in which free agent defensive end Michael Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks, which was a career high and was second on the team behind defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals will, without a doubt, do everything they can to keep him in Cincinnati. A mark of a successful team is not only being smart in the draft and bringing in talented free agents, but re-signing their own talented players.
There's no question that Johnson is talented. He's tall with long arms and has the ability to explode past offensive tackles to put consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. Coupled with other talented pass rushers, like Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, Johnson is a huge threat to any offense.
Over the last four seasons Johnson has had his ups and downs but his best season happened to be his contract year. Is that a coincidence? Probably not. If he played his cards right, Johnson would be up for a massive pay day. Money can be a massive motivator and if money is what Johnson was hoping to get, it could be the reason for his big season.
The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Players aren't judged on what they did four years ago, but their most recent season. Due to that, Johnson is one of the hottest names in the NFL despite the fact that he had only decen seasons over the previous three years. That's the reason Johnson will be payed a large sum of money, whether it be by the Bengals or another team.
The question, though, is whether or not the Bengals should break the bank to bring Johnson back into the fold. If Atkins was a free agent this offseason, I would say that without question the Bengals should do everything they can to re-sign him. Hell, if they had to sell the naming rights to the stadium to keep him, hey should do it. He is a guy who has sold out every single year, whether it was a contract year or not, and has performed to the absolute best of his ability. Can you say the same about Johnson?
There are plenty of examples of guys who had big contract seasons, got payed and then slumped badly. For the Bengals, Antwan Odom comes to mind and elsewhere around the league other names like Albert Haynesworth, Marcedes Lewis, Bart Scott along with others. The second worst thing that could happen to the Bengals would be to spend a large sum of money on Johnson, which could make them unable to re-sign Andre Smith to a long-term deal, only to watch Johnson slump in 2013.
However, there is no reward without risk. The absolute worst thing the Bengals could do would be to let Johnson escape their grasp and then watch him explode for the next few yearson another team. With the most space under the cap of any team in the NFL, the Bengals can afford to take some risks.
So, in summation, I would say that since the Bengals are in the financial situation they're in, they can afford to take a small risk on Johnson. If they were, however, in a situation more liken to the Steelers or Ravens, the decision may not be as easy to make.