The grass isn't always greener on the other side. That's what Michael Johnson could be learning the hard way in Tampa Bay. After a promising five-year career in Cincinnati, Johnson left the Bengals to sign a five-year contract with Tampa Bay worth $43.75 million with $24 million guaranteed last year. Thanks to a generally unproductive season and an assortment of injuries, 2014 was a season that Johnson and Tampa would rather forget.
Johnson generated only four quarterback sacks and finished 53rd in Pro Football Focus' pass rushing grading scale out of 59 qualifying 4-3 defensive ends. One of his agents, former Bengals lineman John Thornton, admitted that staying in Cincinnati may have been the best option while speaking on Lance McAlister's show Monday night.
"I think they both missed each other," said Thornton. "That's probably a regret that I have. I was a part of the process, Rick Smith (Priority Sports), who I was partnered with, and Katie (Blackburn) were lead negotiators, and I was working with the coaches and trying to keep everyone going. We probably, both sides, should have worked harder to get that deal done."
Thornton went on to give an in-depth breakdown as to why Johnson was so important to the Bengals:
"We knew a lot of people valued Mike a lot higher than the Bengals did. But the Bengals never had a backup for Mike... they never had a right end on the roster, they still don't. Robert Geathers is a left end, Carlos Dunlap is a left end, Hunt... a left end. Gilbert is best suited for situational rote at RE... he will give you 6-8 sacks inside as a defensive tackle on pass rushing downs."
"What Mike did is he allowed everyone else to rotate, because he was an every down guy," Thornton said. "Mike wasn't a great pass rusher, no, but he was really good against the run, he was decent against the pass at that is a huge value, because he helped everyone else be great. That is where we all missed the boat......Mike got a great contract, he was hurt most of the year in Tampa. I felt we could have done more to keep him here (Bengals). It is something you learn in the business. You don't always have to go for the biggest contract. I felt we could have got it done and they both missed each other."
According to reports in 2013, Cincinnati offered Michael Johnson a five-year deal worth $40 million. In addition to the money, with Mike Zimmer's departure causing a decline in Cincinnati's overall pass rush, who's to say that Johnson would have had a better season in Cincinnati as opposed to Tampa Bay?
But here’s the problem for Tampa. With $9 million already paid in 2014, the Bucs already owe Johnson another $7 million that is fully guaranteed, with no offset language. So they’ll have to ask themselves whether they're willing to let Johnson walk away with $16 million for one year — or whether they want to push the arrangement to $23 million over two.
Trading Johnson would be the best way to limit the investment to $9 million over one year, but who else would agree to take on $14 million over the next two years for a guy who is two years removed from his best season? After notching 11.5 sacks in 2012, Johnson has a total of 7.5 since then.