Buccaneers actively pursuing Bengals DE Michael Johnson
Even though Johnson put up just 3.5 sacks in 2013, he was still one of the top-rushing defensive end in the league last year, and was dominant against the run as well. The year before, Johnson had a career-high 11.5 sacks, and usually he does a solid job of putting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Johnson is the only top-tier starter available at his position in free agency, with PFT only strengthening that point was by listing him at No.5 on their Free Agent Hot 100.
This stage will be crucial in determining how well Johnson has played out the free agency in the long run. Last year, there wasn’t a quick developing market for defensive ends and Johnson opted to sign the Cincinnati Bengals’ one-year franchise tender, which paid him $11.2 million in 2013. However, this year, the salary cap is higher which gives team extra jiggle room and more to spend on in free agency as Johnson hits the open market. Therefore Johnson probably won’t come cheap and is expected to demand a contract that could fetch around $7 million per year. If Johnson is able to land a big contract, it means that he has played the free agency to his advantage.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of those teams who have a big need at defensive end and may be capable of offering Johnson a contract that would suit his needs. According to Sportac.com, the Buccaneers have around $23 million available in cap space.
The team had only 6.5 sacks from their defensive ends last season and is reportedly looking to improve their outside pass rush. Brad Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that new Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith always had an interest in adding a pass-rushing defensive end like Johnson to his defense, back when Smith had a similar position with the Chicago Bears. And while the Buccaneers appear to have a good starting defensive end in Adrian Clayborn, they still desperately need an effective starter opposite him. From all of the free agents available to the Buccaneers on the open market, Johnson may be the best fit on paper.
However, the Buccaneers also have to address other needs on their roster, which means that signing Johnson could also be an excessive splurge for the team, depending on their strategy. There are other teams like the Bears and Minnesota Vikings who also have major interest in Johnson, and could make a hard push to land the fourth-year pro. So at this point, all such free agency rumors should be perceived with a measure of healthy skepticism.