The decision won’t be an easy one for Michael Johnson. The six year NFL veteran must choose between the team that drafted him and groomed him for his first five NFL seasons and the coach whose system made him into the type of performer who could earn a five-year, $43.75 million contract just 12 months ago.
After being released from that contract and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson’s options became obvious: Return to the Cincinnati Bengals, or follow former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to Minnesota, where Zimmer enters year two as the team’s head coach.
Michael Johnson on Mike Zimmer: “If he wasn’t up here, I wouldn’t have thought twice about coming. He’s got that type of pull.”
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) March 14, 2015
Cincinnati was the obvious choice from the outset, but the decision became tougher after Johnson spent Friday night in Minnesota.
“Before it all started, I though ‘OK, I’m probably going back to Cincinnati,'” Johnson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Saturday morning. “(Now) there’s going to be some tears shed at the end of the day about my decision. It’s going to be hard.
“I’m a loyal and respectful guy. When I tell you I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. So I’m going to honor my word by going to Cincinnati and we’ll just see how everything goes.”
It sounds like Johnson thought he was visiting his old coach as a courtesy, but Zimmer made a great sell and now he’s leaning toward joining the Vikings. The good news is that he left Minnesota without signing the team’s “lucrative” contract offer. He will be spending tonight in the Queen City, where the Cincinnati staff will likely have the last chance to sell Johnson on signing before he makes his decision.
In five seasons with the Bengals, Johnson racked up 26.5 sacks including a career-high 11.5 in 2012. His sack number dropped to 3.5 in 2013 but he defended 10 passes before departing in free agency. Last season, he had just 20 tackles (his low since his 2009 rookie season) and four sacks for a Buccaneers team that finished with the league’s worst record.