Defensive end Michael Johnson notched 11.5 sacks this year, and losing him would allow defenses to double-team All-Pro Geno Atkins more and ultimately hurt the entire defense which relied heavily on the pass-rushing abilities of the d-line. While Johnson wasn’t as good of a player as Smith, he’s been a fairly steady player throughout his career in Cincinnati.
One has to wonder if the Bengals and Smith aren’t already close to a long-term deal, and that’s why Johnson is the “clubhouse-leader” for the tag. Whatever the case is, this is as important an offseason as the Bengals have ever had. Given the teams’ talent level in an AFC North where everyone else is seemingly descending while the Bengals’ youth has them ascending, now is the time to rise to the elite of the AFC.