When news broke that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers waived Michael Johnson on Wednesday, many wondered if the Vikings would make a push for the 29-year-old defensive end — Johnson played under Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati from 2009-2013, when Zimmer was the Bengals’ defensive coordinator.
It looks like the Vikings are serious contenders — per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Michael Johnson will make Minnesota his first free agency visit:
Recently-released Bucs DE Michael Johnson's first visit will be with the Minnesota Vikings, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2015
Under Zimmer in 2012, Johnson recorded 11.5 sacks for the Bengals and vaulted himself into the top tier of the free agency market. His success in Cincinnati led the Buccaneers to sign Johnson to a five-year, $43.75 million contract in 2014 — the same year the Vikings rewarded Everson Griffen with a five-year, $42.5 million deal.
Last season, Johnson tallied just 4 sacks, disappearing in Leslie Frazier’s infamous Cover-2 scheme. His disappointing numbers eventually led to his release, and Tampa Bay was forced to pay Johnson $7 million in guaranteed money.
At 6’7″, 270 pounds, Johnson is a perfect fit in Zimmer’s defense. He can not only rush the passer, but defend against the run from multiple positions along the defensive line. Brian Robison, the team’s current left defensive end, struggled mightily down the stretch in 2014.
As Chris Tomasson reported, “Johnson has great interest in the Vikings”, and the team was close to signing the defensive end last year. He chose to sign with the Buccaneers instead, but the Vikings may have a strong shot at landing Johnson — according to sources, Zimmer is Johnson’s “guy”. Per Tomasson, former Vikings fullback Jerome Felton likes Johnson’s fit with the team:[quote_center]”If he’s healthy, I think Minnesota would be getting a really good player”[/quote_center]
Coming back to Robison, the Vikings have an important decision to make — if Robison is on the roster by the end of Thursday, Minnesota will owe him $2 million in guaranteed money. The rest of his guaranteed money. $2.5 million, will be paid on July 1st. At 32 years old, Robison is nearing an age where he may hit the proverbial wall. In 2014, he played over 900 snaps and saw a dip in his sack totals, leading many to question his role as the team’s starter. Still, it’s difficult to see the Vikings moving on from Robison by the end of the day.
Bringing in Johnson would give the Vikings a solid rotation of three defensive ends, all of whom are used to starting. We’ve discussed the need to add depth behind Robison, and Johnson could supplant him at some point during the season. The team has flexibility with Robison’s contract, and has more than enough cap space to sign Johnson in the coming days.
Imagine Everson Griffen and Michael Johnson rushing the passer in 2015. What do you think, Vikings fans?
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