Once Michael Johnson had been released by the Buccaneers on Wednesday afternoon, the conventional wisdom had been he'd be a Bengal again by Wednesday night in a move anxiously sought by both sides.
But while the Bengals reached out to Johnson's people Wednesday night and Thursday, so did old friend Mike Zimmer. Zimmer, the head coach of the Vikings who coached Johnson during his five seasons in Cincinnati, finally got him on a plane to Minnesota against a backdrop of various outlets reporting the visit.
That didn't happen last March, when Johnson left Cincinnati for Tampa on a five-year, $43 million deal. But even though Johnson is scheduled to sit in front of Zimmer in unseasonably 61-degree weather in the Twin Cities, the Bengals still appear to be in the mix in what looks to be an intriguing arm-wrestling match for one of the players who personified the success of Zimmer's six-year run in Cincinnati.
Zimmer not only covets him, but so does Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, Zimmer's former top lieutenant here, as well as head coach Marvin Lewis, defensive line coach Jay Hayes, and a locker room full of his former teammates.
And, according to some of his teammates, Johnson has professed the same desire to return to the place where it all began as a third-round pick in 2009 and included a double-digit sack season and two AFC North titles. And, where he was comfortable enough that his charitable foundation took off on a variety fronts in the Cincinnati public schools and at the University of Cincinnati.
Now there is a wait as Zimmer gets a visit. When Johnson signed with the Bucs, the Vikes inked end Everson Griffen on a similar deal and he counts $8.2 million against their salary cap this season, according to spotrac.com. The other end, Brian Robison, counts $5.6 million, so it will be interesting to see how that plays in.
With about $17 million counting against the salary cap in their five off-season deals, the Bengals are believed to be near their free-agency budget. But they are apparently still in the hunt with an eye toward the north.