Nick Fairley and the Bengals Being “Fairley” Certain

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Nov 30, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Michael Johnson (90) tackles Cincinnati Bengals running back

Giovani Bernard

(25) during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-13. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Both players have clear pros and cons, making this an annoyingly controversial question that will unfortunately divide the fan base no matter what the front office does.  Fairley is without debate a disruptive tackle whose tape shows strength and explosiveness.  The tape also shows him playing next to Ndamukong Suh on the vast majority of snaps, leaving him with one-on-one match ups most of the time.  While the intent is to pair him with Geno Atkins, last year’s performance by the Bengals Pro-Bowl lineman was somewhat questionable in his return from reconstructive knee surgery.  It is feasible then that Fairley would be asked to absorb double-teams as opposing offenses may force Atkins to re-earn their respect; a task aptitude that is difficult to gauge from Fairley at this point.  Of course, there is also Fairley’s injury history.

On the other hand, Johnson is a drafted Cincinnati product who understands the system and knows two-thirds of the roster’s defensive linemen already.  Johnson notched 11.5 sacks with Bengals in 2012, but has only combined for 7.5 sacks in the past two seasons since, one of which was with the same defensive line currently in place in Cincinnati.  The Bengals seem to be favoring their own, which is expected, but they may be hanging their hat on potential rather than production.  Nevertheless, finding a bookend for Carlos Dunlap will be challenging in this year’s market as opposed to finding a starting tackle, notes ESPN Bengals writer, Coley Harvey, making the prioritization of an end over a tackle somewhat savvy.  Interestingly also, Johnson is still due $7M dollars this year from Tampa Bay, which could factor in to contract negotiations if he develops a Tom Brady-like desire to bolster a team rather than collect a pay day.