Mike Zimmer wants Michael Johnson back, who figures to be a top free agent

USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent in March and Mike Zimmer wants him back.

If Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is hired to become a team's head coach, defensive end Michael Johnson could factor in that team's free agency plans, writes Bengals.com. Despite the perceived struggles that Johnson had getting to the quarterback, he had his best season as a run defender according to Pro Football Focus (graded at 20.5 in '13, highest in his career).

If Zimmer returns for a seventh season in 2014, he'd like to have Johnson back.

"I have a ton of respect for him," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. "I remember when he came here he had a lot of things said about him when he came out of college; he wouldn’t finish, he didn’t do this or didn’t do that, but Michael has become a good football player. He’s very conscientious, he plays extremely hard. He’s one of these guys that we’ve build up into what we’re looking for here, the kind of guys that we want, the kind of personalities, the kind of caring about one another in the locker room. I can’t say enough good things about him … hopefully, we’ll get him back. If not, I know that Michael will be successful wherever he goes."

Johnson, drafted by the Bengals in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent after declining a $40 million extension that the team ended up giving to Carlos Dunlap in August. So Johnson played on a $11.175 million franchise tag and figures to be one of the highest-profile free agents this March.

We do wonder if the decision to decline Cincinnati's offer will cost him. After generating a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2012, Johnson only posted 3.5 sacks in 2013, his lowest total since 2010. And the league will significantly over-pay talented pass rushers more than great run defenders.

Don't worry. He'll still get paid wherever he signs. Despite only generating 3.5 sacks, he still set a career-high in quarterback hits (17), hurries (41) and batted passes at the line of scrimmage (7).

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