The Minnesota Vikings had one of the worst defenses in NFL history in 2013, and there is significant turnover coming with defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams both not likely to be back with the team. Add in the release of linebacker Erin Henderson in February, and 19 of the team’s 41 sacks from last season will be elsewhere next season.
The hiring of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is an excellent fit for the Vikings, as they look to upgrade the talent level on defense and find players who belong on the field. Is a player who is familiar to the new head coach a potential fit for Minnesota?
Defensive end Michael Johnson had a breakout season for the Bengals in 2012 (11.5 sacks), but he had a disappointing season in 2013 with just 3.5 sacks and Cincinnati basically guaranteed they’d let him go this offseason by signing fellow defensive end Carlos Dunlap to a six-year, $40 deal prior to last season.
Brian Robison is entrenched at left end for Minnesota after a nine sack season in 2013, and re-signing Everson Griffen to possibly take Allen’s place opposite him looks like an offseason priority for the team. But Johnson is also a fit at right end, and there is growing buzz from multiple outlets that he will ultimately sign with the Vikings when free agency starts.
The Vikings have over $30 million in salary cap space right now, so Johnson’s market value as possibly the top free agent defensive end should not impede their interest in him. The more critical factor will be Zimmer’s assessment of him, for better or worse, and if he wants Johnson I expect a lucrative contract offer to be made fairly quickly once free agency gets going.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.