The Tampa Bay Buccaneers struck the first big blow in free agency on Tuesday, signing free agent defensive end Michael Johnson to a monster contract. The deal is reportedly for $43.75 million over five years, with $24 million guaranteed.
Johnson’s new contract will be the fourth-highest among all NFL defensive ends. He should slide in to the right side of the Bucs’ defensive line, across from Adrian Clayborn. The move will make Da’Quan Bowers a backup.
With the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012, Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks and looked to be emerging as one of the NFL’s top 4-3 defensive ends. In 2013 he fell off considerably, only getting to the quarterback for 3.5 sacks.
The 27-year-old Georgia Tech product is a physical specimen at 6-7 and 270 pounds and is very athletic for a guy that big. But he has also been inconsistent, so this new deal is extremely risky for the Bucs.
Johnson had 26.5 sacks during his five years in Cincinnati, to go along with three forced fumbles and three recovered. If new head coach Lovie Smith can figure out how to get Johnson to focus more consistently and get the most out of him, this deal could pay off big time. If not, it will be more money the Bucs have wasted on a high-priced free agent.
With Johnson, Clayborn and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy up front, Tampa Bay should be able to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2014. On paper, that is a great group. It all hinges on what Johnson can do.