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Bengals reiterate that they want Michael Johnson back

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The only question is whether they can afford to and justify a contract that may pay more than Carlos Dunlap.

Andy Lyons

Two developments have occurred this weekend in regards to defensive end Michael Johnson -- who will become an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

  1. Rumors of a marriage between Michael Johnson and the Minnesota Vikings, have gained steam. Johnson's former defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, is now the head coach for the Vikings. Johnson would be a possible replacement for Jared Allen, who will turn 32 this April and expected to land with another team.
  2. The NFL salary cap continues to grow, with the latest projection reaching $132 million -- which would give the Bengals a few bucks less than $30 million under the cap, improving prospects that the Bengals may have an opportunity to bring him back.

As for the Bengals, they want him back. That's a foregone conclusion, with the team looking at a new contract with the exception of applying the franchise tag. But like last year, the Bengals want to re-sign as many of their players as possible.

"Michael obviously is a player that we would continue to love to have back," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis on Friday. "We are going to do what we can to continue to sign our players as we have, guys we've targeted. We don’t have very many this year. We are fortunate they did a great job last year upstairs in signing our players. We hope to have the same success this year. We are going to work hard at it."

The question, as is always the pertinent query this time of year, is compensation. Johnson, who initially received an offer similar to what Carlos Dunlap signed last year, rejected the $40 million contract. Should Johnson receive more than Dunlap, who routinely provides stronger pass rushing production and similar production against the run? Could the team justify paying Johnson more than Geno Atkins, who is averaging $10.67 million per season?

Either way, what happens with Johnson, and offensive tackle Anthony Collins, will be the top storyline for the Bengals in free agency this year.