Preparing for the 2013 season, which is starting to forecast with great expectations, there's a quiet hum in the background. It's quiet enough not to be a problem, but with enough volume that it can be distracting if you pay too much attention. And it's coming from Cincinnati's upcoming contract issues with Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
However, as for Johnson, Dan Pompei with the National Football Post writes that not signing Johnson to a long-term deal might "be the best thing for the Bengals." It's the old, sudden increase in production during a contract year, argument.
When he was playing for a new contract in 2012, the defensive end had a career year with 11.5 sacks. The Bengals have seen growth in Johnson every year, and their coaches believe he can improve more, especially with his down to down and game to game consistency. They aren’t sure what his ceiling is because he is athletic, smart, and a high effort player. But they are confident Johnson can be a better player in 2013.
The Bengals have until July 15 to sign Johnson to a long-term extension.
My only counter to the argument is that Johnson is entering another contract year in 2013 with the franchise tag. How much will people weigh the "contract year" argument versus sustained production this time next year?
Once the season starts, attention to contracts will be buried in the background. It's preferred, but even more problematic. If Johnson repeats 2012, Carlos Dunlap has a contract year and Geno Atkins sustains, you figure that their market value will be extraordinarily higher than today.
Regardless, the projected market value between player and team is already significant. Last week, CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora wrote that Johnson is a "goner unless the Bengals step up."