The Cincinnati Bengals and defensive end Michael Johnson appear to be unlikely to reach a new deal, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Inquirer. If the Bengals don't extend Johnson, he'll play the 2013 season under the franchise tag.
If Johnson does indeed play 2013 under the tag, it won't be cheap for Cincinnati. The Bengals placed the franchise tag on him in March, preventing him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, and he's currently set to make $11.175 million this season, a nice step up from the annual salary under his rookie contract. The sides have until July 15 to reach an extension, otherwise that number will be finalized.
Josh Kirkendall at Cincy Jungle, SB Nation's Bengals blog, says letting a good, young player get away is common behavior for Cincinnati:
It's been well documented that the Bengals aren't very good at retaining franchise players. Mike Nugent is the first player to re-sign with the team after being franchised since Rudi Johnson signed an extension in 2005 prior to the franchise deadline. Based on Johnson's perceived market value and the contract status with other players, it's hard to see Johnson playing for the Bengals next year. It helps to explain why the Bengals signed Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers to three-year deals respectively while drafting defensive end Margus Hunt in the second-round this year. But if they are able to capture Johnson long-term, their best bet is to sign him to a long-term deal before next Monday's deadline.
Johnson has been a model of consistency in Cincinnati, and he showed steady improvement in each of his first four seasons. The 26-year-old hasn't missed a game, and he's totaled 146 tackles, 23 sacks and five tackles for loss in his career. In 2012, Johnson broke out with 52 tackles, 11.5 sacks and two tackles for loss.
To understand what kind of contract Johnson could earn if he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year, it's worth taking a look at the deals similar players have recently signed. Earlier this offseason, Kirkendall compiled contract numbers of the NFL's top 10 defensive ends. Buffalo's Mario Williams currently leads the way, averaging $16 million per season under the contract he signed in 2012. Julius Peppers is close behind, having signed a deal in 2010 that pays him $14 million annually.
As Kirkendall points out, it's highly unlikely Johnson's next contract will make him the richest defensive end in the league. Carolina's Charles Johnson and St. Louis' Chris Long, who put up comparable numbers to Johnson in their first four years, could be a good indicator for making a guess at what Michael Johnson will fetch on the open market. Charles Johnson signed a six-year, $76 million deal with the Panthers in 2011 and the Rams signed Long to a five-year, $60.3 million contract in 2012. Both players earn between $12 and $13 million annually.
However, the 2013 free agent market was pretty brutal for defensive ends. Elvis Dumervil and the Baltimore Ravens agreed to the biggest contract, and it's only worth $5.2 million per season over five years. If Michael Johnson has another solid year in 2013, he'll increase his value and will be looking for a big contract. But if the current market trend continues, his annual salary will be much lower than the $12 million-plus that Charles Johnson and Long are making.