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Bengals vs. Vikings: Wallace Gilberry becomes the wild card

With Carlos Dunlap being an unknown this weekend while undergoing concussion protocols for the second time this year, Wallace Gilberry figures to be the next man up.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Envision a scenario that Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson departs for free agency. It's not that hard to fathom actually, after a reported $40 million offer was left on the table during negotiations... for 15 minutes before Carlos Dunlap was asked, "Hey want this," to which Dunlap gladly signed. Would it be surprising if Johnson signed something in the neighborhood of Charles Johnson's six-year deal worth $76 million and $32 million guaranteed? Maybe. What about five years worth $60 million?

Maybe a bit much, but his asking price will probably be north of what the team wants account for, considering that they'll want to negotiate deals with A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Jermaine Gresham, maybe Clint Boling and a surprising extension with Leon Hall -- whose guaranteed money has significantly reduced and his base salary exponentially increases.

Good bye Johnson.

That's the scenario that Todd McShay developed during his first mock draft, selecting Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton.

This pick is dependent upon whether the Bengals decide they want to pay Michael Johnson this offseason. If they let him go, then Crichton fits the bill as a replacement. We'll have to see whether he comes out early or not, but he has been unbelievably productive at Oregon State and one of the best D-linemen in college football the past couple of years. He isn't an elite athlete but he has a quick first step, is a relentless pass-rusher and recorded 16 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks this season even while facing a ton of double-team attention. If the Bengals choose to go in another direction, LB and CB are two other need areas.

Over the offseason, Cincinnati signed Geno Atkins ($54.75 million), Carlos Dunlap ($40 million) and Michael Johnson (one-year franchise contract worth $11.175 million) to deals worth $105.93 million.

Yet for all of that money that was (justifiably) spent over the offseason, it's Wallace Gilberry (who signed a three-year deal worth $6.3 million) who currently leads the team with 7.5 quarterback sacks in '13. And over the last two seasons combined, Gilberry compares favorably with his richy-rich teammates that receive far more notoriety but with less opportunity.

Wallace Gilberry 14 529
Michael Johnson 14.5 1,030
Carlos Dunlap 13.0 913
Geno Atkins 18.5 823

But, but, had Atkins not gotten hurt, he'd clearly be the leader. True. But he is gone. But, but Johnson is a good run defender too. True. However, you're not paying someone Charles Johnson like money to stop a running back. And obviously quarterback sacks tell only a partial story. Factoring hits, pressures, and hurries, Dunlap is the top of the class this season with 57 total pressures, 7.0 sacks and even four forced fumbles. Johnson isn't far behind.

You have to wonder though. Michael Johnson, who hasn't recorded a shared sack since Nov. 17 or a full sack since Oct. 31, just how much he's worth at this point.

Is he exhausted? Probably. Over the last six games, Johnson has played 92.4 percent of the team's defensive snaps -- meaning that he's sat out in 31 plays... in six games. Maybe he is worth it, considering Pro Football Talk grades him as the top overall defender in Cincinnati, the third-best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL and second-best run defender among teams that run base 4-3 schemes. It's not my money but a good pass rusher who hasn't seen the results in the sack column but one of the best defensive ends against the run? Why not? High priority among the other free agents? Maybe not.

But do they use a first-round pick on another defensive end? That's another question entirely.

Cincinnati will face a Vikings offensive line that's allowed 156 pressures this season, giving them a pass blocking efficiency score of 78.0 (13th-best) and who are led by starting right tackle Phil Loadholt and his one sack allowed the past ten games. Injured against the Baltimore Ravens, starting right tackle Brandon Fusco should be able to play this weekend. But if not, Joe Berger will step in, who currently holds the second-best pass blocking score in Minnesota without allowing a sack or quarterback hit on 218 snaps. Consider him an interior version of Anthony Collins.

It might be hard to get to Matt Cassel, but Dunlap and Johnson are Cincinnati's best options. No... wait... Wallace Gilberry. Damn it. I did it again. Who would have thought that Gilberry would continuously be the forgotten one, considering he's first on the team in sacks, the only one that recorded a sack in the past two games with two sacks in the past three. And with Carlos Dunlap undergoing concussion protocols for the second time in six months, Gilberry figures to be the next man up if Dunlap fails to pass his tests this week.

"We don't like going sideways, east and west," said Gilberry prior to the San Diego game. "We want you to come hit us in the mouth because we're going to hit you in the mouth. That's the kind of ball we play around here."

How do you not like this guy?