As soon as the Bengals announced their raft of signings Wednesday, the Buccaneers released right end Michael Johnson but that doesn't automatically mean his return to stripes.
It's believed both sides are interested in a reunion after Johnson's one-year hiatus in Tampa Bay that cost the Bucs $16 million. This is a mutual admiration society, but now that Johnson is on the open market he'll have other suitors and the Bengals have to work through some numbers in the wake of Wednesday's activities.
It would appear they are down to one more signing after they announced their deals with left guard Clint Boling and linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Boling's numbers have been reported at five years, $26 million with a salary cap hit this year at $5.1 million. Hawk is at $3.75 million for two years with a cap hit of $1.8 million for 2015, reports say. That is on top of deals for middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (reported as $6.8 million cap hit), kicker Mike Nugent ($2 million) and offensive tackle Eric Winston ($1 million).
Those signings represent a cap hit of about $17 million, about what the Bengals had budgeted to spend in free agency. So figure they've got room for one more player, but it can't be at an exorbitant price that is usually reserved for the first week of free agency.
Former mates have said Johnson would love to return to Cincinnati after a rough year in Tampa with just four sacks. But with other clubs now involved, it remains to be seen how it plays out. The Bengals certainly can't get into the $7 million per year neighborhood, which is where they were before he opted for Tampa a year ago. Things may be helped by the fact that Johnson gets $7 million from the Bucs this year.
The market is big this time of year. A guy the Bengals had their eye on, Browns defensive end Jabaal Sheard, got a $5.5 million average on a two-year deal with the Patriots Wednesday.
The Bengals hosted Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley Wednesday, but it looks like the brakes are on until they can figure out if they can re-sign Johnson.
Although Johnson had just 3.5 sacks in his last season with Cincinnati in 2013, the Bengals missed his 90-percent play-time at right end that allowed other players to excel in complementary roles. Plus, he brought reliability against the run as well as inspiring intangibles.