The Bengals are absolutely loaded along the defensive line. How does veteran Michael Johnson fit into the equation this season?
One of the biggest releases the Bengals made on roster cut day was longtime defensive end Michael Johnson. While it was initially a little surprising, it soon became clear the team cut Johnson with the full intent to resign him. After just a day on free agency (not waivers, since Johnson is a veteran), Johnson made the return to Cincinnati. He declined several suitors, including the Raiders and former Bengals’ DC Paul Guenther, in choosing the Bengals.
One of the oddest parts of the decision to bring back Johnson was that his contract remained the same. Johnson was always deemed a potential cap casualty because of his $6.1 million cap hit. Indeed, when the team released him, it seemed like a move to shed some extra salary. However, the Bengals have given Johnson his identical contract, not saving any money towards the cap.
As it turns out, the move was purely for roster gymnastics. Now that Johnson has returned, the question is whether he will have a big impact on his defense. Aside from his obvious off-field impact in the locker room and on the sideline as a leader, Johnson may be involved on the field. Is that a positive thing, though?
Johnson, now past his prime, may be less useful than young guys like Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard. Willis has the size and athleticism to replace Johnson’s role in the defense eventually, so he should start to grow into that role this year. Hubbard isn’t quite the same player Johnson is, but his pass rushing has flashed during the preseason. He should definitely get some reps this season.
What the Bengals experimented with, and may implement this season, is using Johnson as a defensive tackle in obvious pass rush situations. Johnson will still take reps as a defensive end at times, but on third downs, expect to see him slide inside. The Bengals could put Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Sam Hubbard, and Carl Lawson, along with Johnson, on the defensive line. That would be an absolutely terrifying pass rush.
For this season, Johnson will be back on the Bengals. Although his snap count remains to be seen, Johnson should have a positive impact on the team.