The Bengals had the top defense in the AFC in the 2013 NFL season. They also owned the title of top paid defensive unit in the NFL for the same season.
The Bengals tied up 69 million dollars of their salary on the defensive side of the the football. It tells me one of two things. One side could be that the organization understands the necessity that a good defense is needed in today's NFL. Or, that Mike Zimmer was so strongly respected in the organization that he was able to convince a historically thrifty owner to shell out an extra share of cash to his side of the ball. Either way, the Bengals were beneficiaries.
When you compare this to the 2008 Bengals defense that finished 11th in the AFC, you don't need to look any further than the salary spent. In that season the defensive unit was paid a whopping 33.4 million. Less than half of the current squad.
What is most interesting is the amount of money the Bengals spent while having some relatively inexpensive talent on the roster. Undrafted linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey command very little money compared to what they offer on the field. Less expensive free agents like Adam Jones, James Harrison and Terrence Newman also add great value for the dollar.
Six of the top ten highest paid Bengals are on the defensive side of the football. Coley Harvey details how Michael Johnson's franchise tag of 11.2 million and Atkins 55 million dollar contract add to the defensive total. The injured Leon Hall was paid 8.4 million last season.
In a bit of a shot to the gut, the number 1 defense in the NFL last season had a defensive salary of 52 million. On the flip side of that, the Minnesota Vikings spent 60.5 million on their defense that finished 31 out of 32 teams.
Regardless of how the Michael Johnson situation pans out, it is likely that the defense will post similar salary numbers next year. As fans, we hope that with another year of experience, the unit will perform at an even higher level too. Then the spend is all worth it.