Free agency and the Cincinnati Bengals. Of late, it's a relationship that resembles oil and water, but the team has made some moves to better their team when March rolls around each year. While they could have done more last offseason, given their amount of cap space, the Bengals front office didn't totally sit on their hands. Preferring to use an internal approach, the Bengals signed a number of their own impending free agents, while sprinkling in a few outside signings, some of whom were returning to the Bengals after brief hiatuses.
Here are the votes from our contributors for the Bengals' 2015 CJ Award for the team's best free agent acquisition of the year. Cast your vote and sound off on your selection!
Alex Healey: Michael Johnson. He wins this almost by default. His only competition is A.J. Hawk and Pat Sims, which is to say there isn't any competition for this award as long as we aren't counting re-signing the Bengals' own players. MJ90 didn't light the world on fire, but he was a solid contributor and a good run defender. His five sacks are much better than the combined efforts of his replacements in 2014.
Kyle Phelps: Without a doubt, this has to go to Michael Johnson. Given the Bengals' distaste for signing many free agents in the offseason, the only player who comes even close to challenging Johnson for the award is A.J. Hawk. The biggest difference is that Michael Johnson immediately returned to a starting position and the impressive form that he showed prior to leaving for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014. He recorded 42 total (29 solo tackles, 13 assisted), five sacks, forced three fumbles, and recovered one of them.
Tack on to all of that the fact that he didn't start in the first game of the season because he picked up an injury in training camp and you've got one of the best comeback stories for the Bengals in 2015 (stay tuned).
Scott Schulze: The free agent acquisition of Michael Johnson was big for two reasons. One, because of the front office debacle in Tampa Bay that led to his one year departure from Cincinnati, and then his return. And secondly, because he immediately stepped in and contributed as a quality starter, tallying 42 total tackles and five sacks as the Bengals' starting right defensive end.
Rebecca Toback: The Bengals didn't pick up many free agents from outside the team in 2015, but Michael Johnson was likely their best pick up. Johnson contributed to a much-improved defensive line that more than doubled their sack total from 2014 (when he was gone) and allowed the Bengals to utilize a rotation that greatly helped the success of the line all season long.
Scott Bantel: For a team that is not very active in the free agency world, there is not much to choose from, but that is not to diminish Michael Johnson’s contributions. Johnson is a solid three down defensive end and his return, along with the return of a healthy Atkins, were the main reasons the Bengals pass rush saw an enormous leap in 2015.
Jason Marcum: Pat Sims. I don't count the MJ one-year hiatus in Tampa (wouldn't we all like to live in Florida for a year and then come back home?), so this goes to Sims. He was quietly a very reliable run-stuffer who arguably should have played more.
Anthony Cosenza: Since the Bengals tend to focus internally, I will too. Offensive guard Clint Boling was retained and got a 5-year deal this offseason. Boling a contributor along an offensive line that played well most of the season. He isn't the best lineman of the group, but he is a valued player on the Bengals' offensive line and will continue to be a huge key going forward.