Michael Johnson Sure to Follow Mike Zimmer to Vikings
By Chris Roling
Nov 17, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (93) reacts during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati won 41-20. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has left for the head coach position with the Minnesota Vikings, and he may take defensive end Michael Johnson with him.
Much has been written about how Zimmer’s departure will impact the Bengals, but not many have begun to realize that he may negatively hurt the Bengals when it comes to free agents, too.
Fans surely know how loved Zimmer is by his players. Tweets from his former players after the news he was hired by the Vikings broke show that well enough:
Johnson surely falls into this category, and there was never really a shot of the Bengals retaining him in the first place. Cincinnati hit Johnson with the franchise tag last offseason — the decision to do so again would cost the team north of $13 million. For a team in the neighborhood of $26 million in cap space and still needing to get an extension with A.J. Green ironed out, there simply is not enough space to keep Johnson via the tag.
The same goes for a normal contract, which was a distant hope as the Bengals could have possibly thrown a back-loaded deal Johnson’s way or prayed he settled for less to stay with his teammates — and Zimmer.
With Zimmer gone, so is Johnson — officially.
Before his job with the Vikings, Zimmer made it clear he wanted to do everything it took to retain Johnson if he remained defensive coordinator, per Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ website:
"“I have a ton of respect for him,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “I remember when he came here he had a lot of things said about him when he came out of college; he wouldn’t finish, he didn’t do this or didn’t do that, but Michael has become a good football player. He’s very conscientious, he plays extremely hard. He’s one of these guys that we’ve build up into what we’re looking for here, the kind of guys that we want, the kind of personalities, the kind of caring about one another in the locker room. I can’t say enough good things about him … hopefully, we’ll get him back. If not, I know that Michael will be successful wherever he goes.”"
Suffice to say, Zimmer will be on the hunt to bring Johnson to Minnesota in free agency. Why not? Jared Allen’s contract is up. Zimmer can surely work his magic and milk a few more great years out of the veteran, but that does not mean there will not be room for Johnson.
The Vikings run a typical Zimmer 4-3 look that he specifically molded Johnson for after an awkward experiment at outside linebacker. Johnson posted 11.5 sacks in 2012. That number was down to 3.5 in 2013, but he recorded 56 tackles and ranked as the No. 4 overall 4-3 end in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Cincinnati can survive without Johnson. The front office already grabbed a replacement last year with Margus Hunt. Fans should not be discouraged with the loss of Johnson this offseason — it should have already been digested at this point — but they should in no way be shocked when the star defensive end ends up in purple in 2014.