Free agent defensive end Michael Johnson is coming back to his (second) home. According to multiple reports, Johnson has chosen the Cincinnati Bengals over the Minnesota Vikings, signing a four-year deal with an undisclosed amount (as of now). Bengals.com beat writer Geoff Hobson was the first to Tweet the news, which was then confirmed by the Cincinnati Enquirer, which was later announced by the team.
Welcome back Michael Johnson pic.twitter.com/u9Cj4feHjn— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) March 15, 2015
"Our entire organization is just ecstatic about getting Mike back," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said on Sunday. "He's earned tremendous respect from coaches, teammates and management. He's done tremendous things for us while he was here. And we look forward to having him blend back in and uplift us as a defensive football team."
"Next to Selma, Alabama, this is my home," Johnson said Sunday morning via Bengals.com. "Everything from my brothers on the field, to the community, to the stadium tours I did with the kids. Everything about it. I’m blessed. How many people get a chance to do this?"
According to Bengals.com, Johnson will wear No. 90. "I left wearing 93, now I’m back wearing 90 and I’m going to be better," Johnson said.
With a four-year deal, the Bengals will have secured Johnson, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap signed through the 2018 season. The Cincinnati Enquirer projects that Cincinnati will get a third-round compensatory pick for losing Johnson last year while Johnson's signing on Sunday won't impact the compensatory selection in 2016 because he was cut.
In his last year with Cincinnati Michael Johnson was our 4th ranked 43 DE. 2nd against the run with 14th most qb total pressures #bengals— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 15, 2015
When Johnson was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two teams competed for him -- the Minnesota Vikings (who feature his former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) and the Cincinnati Bengals (who employ many of the friends that he's developed over the years). Johnson spent the night in Minnesota on Friday before returning to Cincinnati on Saturday morning, where he had lunch with head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive line coach Jay Hayes. Domata Peko and Rey Maualuga took Johnson out to dinner Saturday night.
Johnson signed a five-year deal worth $43.75 million last year but was released on Wednesday after a disappointing first season. During his only season with the Buccaneers, Johnson posted four quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles while dealing with an ankle injury that never seemed fully recovered. Johnson has generated 30.5 sacks in his career, 21 of which came in his final three years with the Bengals. In addition, Johnson recorded 56 quarterback hits and hurries in 2013, both of which ranked inside the top-11 of every NFL pass-rushers. His 61 total pressures were also the 14th most of any-pass-rusher.
This marriage was destined to resume once the possibility of a reunion was realized. Former Bengals defensive tackle and current representative John Thornton joined Lance McAlister on 700 WLW earlier this year, saying that he thought that Johnson and the Bengals missed each other.
"I think they both missed each other," said Thornton in January. "That's probably a regret that I have. I was a part of the process, Rick Smith (Priority Sports), who I was partnered with, and Katie (Blackburn) were lead negotiators, and I was working with the coaches and trying to keep everyone going. We probably, both sides, should have worked harder to get that deal done."
In a story with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Johnson's heart remained with his former teammates in Cincinnati:
Johnson left Cincinnati this offseason to sign a five-year, $43.75 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His address lists Tampa, Florida and uniform pewter and red, but in many ways he never left the defensive line room inside Paul Brown Stadium.
He still checks in there regularly through the cell phones of his former teammates.
"I'm still in the group text," Johnson said, slipping into his contagious, relaxed, Southern laugh. "They'll be texting sometimes (asking) what time the meeting is."