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Michael Johnson fighting off youth in what may be his final season with the Bengals

The Bengals have loaded up with young pass rushers. Could this be the season Michael Johnson gets surpassed by his younger counterparts?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Johnson has been an important part of the Bengals defense since he returned from his hiatus in Tampa Bay in 2015. It is very obvious that his best days on the field are behind him.

Last year, Carl Lawson clearly was more productive than him, and now there is plenty of talk about Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard. Can Michael Johnson cling to a roster spot for one more season?

Michael Johnson

Height: 6’7”

Weight: 280 pounds

College: Georgia Tech

Hometown: Selma, AL

Experience: Entering his 10th season

Contract Status

Michael Johnson is entering the final season of his four-year contract with the Bengals. He is set to make just under $5 million this season with a cap hit of around $6.1 million, according to If the team were to cut Johnson they’d save roughly $5 million in cap space.

Johnson is set to hit free agency following the 2018 season.


Johnson was the 70th overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft. He is now one of the most experienced players on the roster. It took him some time to get his feet under him, though, before he really became an impact player in this league.

Johnson recorded six sacks in 2011 before exploding for 11.5 sacks in 2012. Following that season, he was designated as the Bengals franchise player, but after having a down season in 2013 where he only recorded 3.5 sacks, Cincinnati allowed him to hit the open market where he signed a huge deal with the Bucs.

Johnson failed to live up to the hype in Tampa and was cut following his only season with the team. He ended up signing with the Bengals, and he has enjoyed some successful seasons. He has never reached double digit sacks after 2012, but he has been a quality run stopper and veteran in the locker room since rejoining the team.

In recent years, Johnson has begun kicking inside to defensive tackle on passing downs, which has actually made him effective enough to warrant keeping on the roster. Had he just stuck to defensive end full time, he may have been cut by now, as he’s lost a step and struggles to beat tackles off the edge anymore.

Roster Odds

It is hard to see someone like Johnson in this situation. He has been a great person off the field for awhile now, but he isn’t producing as much on the field. It is also very clear the Bengals have prepared to move on from him the past few seasons.

Lawson may be set to play more linebacker this season, but the team should still have use for him at the defensive end position. Willis basically played the same role has Johnson last season as a defensive end with the ability to kick inside in obvious passing situations. Hubbard also has experience doing that same thing from his time at Ohio State. Not to mention the Bengals have loaded up on defensive tackles anyway.

Johnson’s spot on the roster could very well be saved by the fact the team view’s Lawson as a linebacker, but if he becomes more of a full-time defensive end, Johnson’s spot on the roster could be in serious jeopardy. He still is good enough to be a rotational guy off the bench, but his starting days seemed to be numbered.

Even if Johnson makes the final roster, it’s hard to see him being with the Bengals beyond 2018.

Roster odds: 40 percent.