The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms with Michael Johnson on a five-year contract, and he'll presumably sign that contract as soon as the Bucs give him a physical. Free agency doesn't officially open until 4 PM ET today, but Johnson-to-Tampa is a done deal.
That means we need to figure out where he fits the Bucs. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this 6'7", 260 lbs. defensive end who notched 3.5 sacks last year? How good will he be as a pass rusher? Josh Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle at least thinks he's a terrific player, coming off a career year.
Michael Johnson is a rock solid run defender, ranked third according to PFF against the run as a defensive end in 4-3 alignment. Despite only generating 3.5 sacks in 2013 (after posting 11.5 in 2012) he reached career marks in pressures, tackles forced fumbles, and passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
His run defense is universally seen as a huge strength. Bengals/draft analyst Joe Goodberry loved his play against the run. "Johnson plays with a passion and reckless abandon that you'll be proud of," Goodberry said. "He routinely gave his body up to stuff an inside run or used his massive wingspan to contain the edge. This is probably his best phase of his overall game."
Pass rush is a bit more of a question mark, though that's perhaps a little much. He had 61 pressures last season, per Pro Football Focus' numbers, and he certainly knows how to get to the quarterback. Getting them down on the ground may be more of an issue, though.
"Johnson struggles to disengage after walking an offensive lineman into the quarterback," Goodberry noted. "He rarely turned his pressures into sacks and you'll notice his average agility and closing speed when he defeats a block, but just misses the QB. In 2012, this wasn't as big of an issue because Geno Atkins (your Gerald McCoy) often forced QBs to sidestep and they ended up in Michael Johnson's lap."
His pass-rush technique mostly depends on power, arm length and leverage, rather than an explosive get-off. "He has a solid bull-rush and can surprise when he dips under an OT's reach and leaves a lineman grasping for air", Goodberry noted. "That's about the only time you'll see him win around the arc though. You'll mostly see Johnson deploy his bull-rush or try a fake-step outside and come back inside for a more direct path to the QB. But, if he doesn't create pressure, Johnson's long arms make throwing windows smaller for QBs as he frequently knocked passes away."
Michael Johnson picked up 26.2% of pressures to OT's outside shoulder, 39.3% to inside, 16.4% on bull rushes, 18% unblocked/pursuit/clean up— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 11, 2014
Greg Cosell had some similar comments for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. "You wouldn't call him a pure pass rusher -- you know the kind of guy where you say 'wow, look at him explode off the edge' -- but because of his length, his overall movement, he's very very good. He does have pass-rush skills, and he does give you great flexibility scheme-wise."
The flexibility is interesting, because Cosell and Goodberry both noted he could stand up as a linebacker and play defensive tackle as well. Goodberry also waved away some pre-draft concerns related to taking plays off and lacking desire, saying that none of those issues showed up in Cincinnati.
"The Bengals wanted to keep him," Goodberry said. "But really couldn't afford to spend more money on their deep defensive line. This is one of the few cases in free agency where the buying team isn't paying for another team's trash."
Overall, Michael Johnson is a very good defensive end, but perhaps not an elite pass-rusher. Still, it's clear he represents a massive upgrade for the Buccaneers, and at $8.5 million per year, his price tag reflects that reality.