Throughout the offseason, Bengals veteran defensive end Michael Johnson looked like a strong candidate to be a cap casualty when final cuts were made. And then the Bengals released him on Saturday, bringing that point full circle.
But, Johnson is returning to the Bengals, according to Geoff Hobson.
Mike Johnson says he is returning to Bengals. Sunday will be his 127th game in stripes, tying Ross Browner, another RE— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) September 2, 2018
A roster move will need to be made to make his return official. It was likely agreed upon between Johnson and the Bengals that he would be brought back following the initial wave of cuts on Saturday. The Bengals could move Cody Core or Davontae Harris to IR to correspond with this move on the 53-man roster.
Johnson can still make a positive impact on this team, but he just wasn’t playing up to the level of the pay he was receiving. Per Spotrac, Johnson was set to have a $6.11 million cap hit in 2018.
However, it sounds like the Bengals will keep paying Johnson the same in 2018 as he was set to make before being cut:
It's a one-year deal for Michael Johnson, who didn’t even take a pay cut from his old deal, source said. Other teams showed interest, and the #Bengals -- who released Johnson on Saturday -- did right by him to get him back. https://t.co/eX57mqoGPf— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 2, 2018
The Bengals would have been on the hook for $1.9 million in dead cap but saved about $4.2 million in cap space this year. It sounds like they’re still going to pay him the full amount he was previously owed in the final year of his deal.
Almost as soon as the move was made, there was talk of a possible reunion. As a 10-year veteran, Johnson wasn’t subject to waivers and became a free agent immediately upon being cut by Cincinnati. He was able to re-sign with the team after 4 p.m. today and it took less than one hour after that for it to become a done deal.
While Johnson is far past his prime, there is no arguing his value goes beyond the field. He does plenty of work in the community, and he is one of the strongest leaders the Bengals have rostered.
Johnson was the 70th overall selection for the Bengals in the 2009 NFL draft. 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 in which 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 following his release from Tampa Bay, and he has enjoyed some successful seasons. He has never reached double digit sacks again 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 sooner, as he’s lost a step and struggles to beat tackles off the edge anymore.
Johnson joined other Bengals veterans who were cut this offseason, including Brandon LaFell, George Iloka and Chris Baker. But, now he’s back for more after about 24 hours removed from the team.