This week's look at potential free agents for the 2014 Minnesota Vikings continues to focus on the defensive side of the ball- in particular, what the Vikes could do to strengthen their defensive line.
Who is Michael Johnson?
At 6'7'' and 260 lbs., Johnson is a tremendous athletic specimen and has the physical tools to be a dominant defensive end. However, after being drafted in the 3rd round in the 2009 NFL draft, Johnson has shown somewhat inconsistent production. After posting a career best 11.5 sacks in 2012, Johnson's sack numbers dropped all the way down to 3.5 in 2013. However, he did have a career best 56 tackles in 2013 (putting him in the top 20 among DEs). In addition, Johnson had 2 forced fumbles and an interception. However, what sets Johnson apart from other DEs is his ability to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage. Johnson had 10 passes defensed in 2013, more than twice as many as any other defensive lineman in the league (several DLs came in second with 4). Johnson is really known more for his ability to stop the run, but he has shown that he can disrupt the passing game in a number of ways.
What's his contract situation?
With the Carolina Panthers placing the franchise tag on DE Greg Hardy, the Cincinnati Bengals' Michael Johnson will be one the most coveted, if not the most coveted, defensive end in the 2014 free agent market if the Bengals let him walk, which appears to be a very likely scenario. The Bengals failed to reach a long term deal with Johnson last off season and just spent a second round pick on DE Margus Hunt in last year's draft. After being franchised last season, it is extremely unlikely the Bengals will use the franchise tag on Johnson again by tomorrow's deadline (3/3), and reportedly are not planning on using the tag at all this off season. It appears the writing is on the wall for Johnson and the Bengals, who already have a strong defensive line, to part ways.
Would he be a fit for the Vikings?
It's widely assumed that the Vikings will lose both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams in free agency, and if that happens, the team will be looking to beef up their defensive line this off-season. Coupled with the fact that Johnson has spent his entire career playing under Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Minnesota seems like a very plausible landing spot for the 27 year old Johnson. Johnson played left defensive end for Cincinnati, the same position Brian Robison plays for Minnesota. If Jared Allen goes elsewhere next season, the Vikings could move Robison to right defensive end to replace Allen, as Robison is more of a true pass rusher than is Michael Johnson.
Bringing Johnson into Minnesota to essentially replace Jared Allen seems to makes a lot of sense for the Vikings. However, a big factor in this equation is what the Vikings do with Everson Griffen. Griffen has yet to shown he can be an every down player, but he is an explosive athlete with great versatility- something Mike Zimmer surely covets. The Vikings are currently in the top 10 in cap space for 2014 off season, and if they cannot agree to terms with Griffen, may very well sign a player like Johnson to a big contract. If the team does resign Griffen, it will be interesting to see how they plan on using him, and if they still decide to go out and spend money on another player, like Johnson, to solidify a defensive line that figures to lose two of its cornerstone pieces this month.