Free Agency

Report: DE Michael Johnson Will Visit Minnesota Vikings

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:

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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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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  1. I’m perfectly fine with signing Johnson if that’s what Zimmer wants to do, but he’s never been a rush the passer type guy. He had one year where he got 11.5 sacks 3 seasons ago, in the last two he has 7.5 combined. I guess maybe that changes since he’d be switching sides and no longer going against a team’s left tackle, but it seems like that one year where he got over 6 sacks was a fluke. Now Robison had issues with run defense as well, and until last year that’s what Johnson did well, so it makes sense to bring him for that and then maybe Robison improves his sack numbers by playing mostly on passing downs since he’ll be fresher. But I don’t get this idea of “Robison didn’t get enough sacks last year, let’s bring in Johnson to fix that!”

  2. Our run D was a glaring liability and if Johnson is healthy he could help significantly. Zimmer’s priority is stopping the run and I believe many are underestimating how bothered he was by their performance against the run last year. Many seem to have the Greenway syndrome when it comes to Robison, especially with his ability to stop the run. I don’t think Zimmer would hesitate to shift Griffin to the left side since Johnson primarily plays the right. Is Johnson capable of shifting to the left? I don’t know, what I do know is that Griffin is a beast and he’s proved he will succeed whether it’s the left, right or even the inside in certain packages. There’s no doubt he’s our premier end and his contract reflects that. It’s about putting each player in the best position to succeed and Zimmer excels at that.

    I’m curious if the Vikings are going to pursue Brandon Spikes to supplement the run D. He seems to fit Spielman’s prototypical free agent; young (27), good value and an upgrade over Brinkley as a two-down MLB.