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Michael Johnson could "command" $10 million/season or more

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Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson will enter free agency as an unrestricted free agent, who may generate enough interest for a significant contract.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cincinnati Bengals want to re-sign Michael Johnson, the cost may surpass $10 million per season, according to relative conjecture from NFL Insider Adam Caplan. Johnson, whose claim to fiscal fame largely rests on his pass rushing ability, generated only 3.5 quarterback sacks in 2013 -- a follow-up from 11.5 sacks during the 2012 season (which forced Cincinnati to use the franchise tag last season).

The Bengals, who offered Johnson a $40 million deal last season, are allowed to negotiate exclusively with Johnson until March 8 -- the date when other teams are allowed to negotiate with free agents (however a contract can't be signed until March 11).

Several teams have been speculated with having interest.

One unconfirmed rumor was that the Atlanta Falcons had interest due to his connection in Georgia. He played college football at Georgia Tech and, according to the Falcoholic, the Falcons will have approximately $16.5 million available in cap space.

Matt Miller with Bleacher Report wrote during the senior bowl:

What will the Atlanta Falcons do in free agency? I spoke to one source who believes they'll try to lure Michael Johnson back to Georgia and hope for a hometown discount in the process.

Let's keep in mind that Michael Johnson's hometown isn't Georgia -- it's Alabama. He was born in Selma, Alabama, which is where he played high school ball (Dallas County High School).

The New England Patriots could factor as suitors based on their reported interest last year. The Minnesota Vikings, who recently hired Cincinnati's former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, could jump into the mix.

Johnson, who had posted 17.5 quarterback sacks in 2011 and 2012 combined, generated only 3.5 sacks in 2013. All things being equal, that was really the only knock on his resume last season.

Johnson accounted for 61 pressures this year (according to Pro Football Focus). Easily a career-high. Johnson also generated a career-high in forced fumbles (2), passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage (9) and defensive stops (33) -- plays that constitute as a failure for the offense. Johnson ranked second in the NFL (among all 4-3 defensive ends) with a +21.2 score against the run.

After being tagged with the franchise label, Johnson signed the one-year tender worth $11.175 million. Cincinnati tried negotiating a long-term deal and placed a $40 million contract on the table (believed to be for five seasons). When Johnson declined, Cincinnati gave the contract to Carlos Dunlap (after adding a sixth season).