The Cincinnati Bengals have spent time and money rebuilding a defense that, just a few years ago, was considered one of the worst in the league. Defensive end Michael Johnson was a big part of that rebuilding. He joined the Bengals in 2009 and became an instant fit for a defense that needed a solid pass rush. His 11.5 sacks in 2012 was good enough for the Bengals to franchise tag him for the 2013 season. Yet his production slipped to just 3.5 sacks last year. Add that to the fact that the Bengals re-signed two of Johnson’s fellow linemen to long, lucrative deals, without wrapping him up with one, and you have a scenario that seems obvious. The Bengals were done with Johnson. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, are just beginning with him.
Tampa Bay has announced that they will be signing the quick defensive end to a five-year contract that will pay him $43.75 million. Johnson will be joining a defense that had only 35 sacks all of last year. 16.5 of those came from two players, Lavonte David (7) and Gerald McCoy (9.5). The Bucs were ranked in the middle of the pack in most defensive categories, and on paper seem like a vanilla defense. Yet there were times in 2013 when the unit played better on the field than on the stat sheet. They held a top flight Saints offense to 16 points in week 2, and battled the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks in week 9, losing the game by a mere three points. It is hard to say that one player can make a huge impact on a mediocre team, but Johnson’s presence on the defensive line for Tampa Bay might just return the Bucs to the fearsome defense they were once known for. He will be tested early and often in 2014. Tampa Bay has to play Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton twice every year, and Johnson will have plenty of opportunity to showcase his pass-rushing skills.
“Revis Island” took his talents to Tampa Bay last year after the Jets decided that the star corner was too big a risk to bring back after injuries and a poor performance dogged his 2012 season. Now just one year later, the Bucs are looking to relocate a player that many feel is the best in the league at his position. It is not like Darrelle Revis played poorly for the Bucs last year. He made the Pro Bowl roster despite still recovering from a reconstructed knee. His salary of $16 million for the 2014 season seems fair for a player who is at the top of his game. However, Tampa Bay had a dismal 4-12 record last year, and it seems as though they are looking to wash away everything they can about it. They have new uniforms, a new mindset, and a new coach in Lovie Smith. He was the engineer for a Chicago Bears’ defense that has been near the top of the league for over a decade. Smith’s track record suggests that he knows exactly what he is doing. He may not feel as if Revis is worth such a big payday. It also might be the fact that there are other holes to fill and Revis’ salary could pay for several of them. Regardless of the motivation for his departure, whoever is fortunate enough to pick up Revis from the Bucs is sure to find that the high price tag he comes with is well worth it.
Commentary by Chris Chisam