It’s an interesting year for some long-tenured veterans on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster. In the midst of roster transition, head coach Marvin Lewis will still be relying on some of the names fans have come to know during the past few years.
Michael Johnson is one of those reliable veterans and someone Lewis will be relying on in 2017. Still, underachievement on his end after signing a lucrative deal in 2015 has raised questions on his continuing value to the defense, especially with some promising additions in this year’s draft.
Weight: 272 pounds
College: Georgia Tech
Hometown: Selma, AL
Position: Defensive end
Experience: Ninth-year player
Draft Status: Third round pick in 2009
Johnson is entering the third year of a four-year contract, which he signed in the 2015 offseason. He’s set to make $5,125,000 in 2017, which is also the cap hit for the Bengals should he make the team. The team does have an opt-out in 2018, of sorts, as they can take only a $1,125,000 dead cap hit if they want to release him after this season, per Spotrac. Otherwise, he will become a free agent in 2019.
Johnson has been a valuable and largely-unheralded member of many stout Bengals defenses since his arrival in the 2009 NFL Draft. He had a breakout 2012 season where he recorded 11.5 sacks, but the major criticism has been in his inability to garner more than six sacks in his seven other accrued seasons.
Still, Johnson has contributed to the Bengals’ defense in other overlooked ways. He constantly bats down passes at the line (31 passes defended in his career), as well as setting the edge effectively against the run.
But, that isn’t what fans want to see from a starting defensive end. They want consistent pressure and sacks, which Johnson hasn’t always been able to give. Last season, Johnson was ranked as Pro Football Focus' 105th best defensive end and received a poor overall grade of 41.1.
All indications have Johnson as the starter on the right side once again in 2017. However, age and a lack of consistency in getting to the passer last year led the team to draft two other pass-rushers in Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson.
Margus Hunt is no longer in the defensive end rotation, but Will Clarke is still in Cincinnati and had his most productive pro season in 2016. So, Johnson is the entrenched starter, but he might not be the near-every down end we’ve seen throughout his career.
While Johnson may be eating up a bit more cap space than fans would like, the team is still in great shape in that regard, as they appear to have $19,132,526 left for this year. Regardless, this is a critical year for Johnson in his career, as this current contract may be his last and there are promising players chomping at the bit for playing time behind him. There is a small chance he becomes a cap casualty, but he should be safe and starting for the team this year.
Roster odds: 95 percent.