After a jet-setting day in Tampa Tuesday and before a 6:30 a.m. physical Wednesday morning, Michael Johnson looked at Clinton McDonald visiting his hotel room as midnight neared when he heard that Anthony Collins was headed that way, too, for what appeared to be another free-agent signing.
"It can't be. The Bucs are going to get three Bengals? Nobody wants the Bengals players," said Johnson, mocking the old gag.
The Bengals are supposed to have one of the deepest rosters in the league and the first day of NFL free agency proved it. They lost one starter in Johnson and may very well lose another one Wednesday when Collins is expected to get a lush offer from Tampa in the $7 million per year range, $5M over what he made last season. And back in Cincinnati the Bengals plan on replacing Collins with a Pro Bowler and take a look at replacing Johnson at right end with maybe Carlos Dunlap, he of 27.5 sacks in 54 games.
And then there's McDonald, who has been a good friend of Johnson's since they arrived in that 2009 Bengals draft class, Johnson in the third round and McDonald, a defensive tackle, in the seventh round. McDonald was traded right before the 2011 playoff season to Seattle, where he helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl last month with his block on MVP Malcolm Smith's interception TD return.
"Clint's got a ring. I want to get to his level," Johnson said. "Go unbeaten at home and win the NFC South."
Sounds like the Bengals' AFC North mantra, doesn't it? But Johnson is embracing the Buccaneers' new regime of head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, another former Bengal.
"(Smith) put together some good defenses in Chicago and Leslie Frazier was in Cincinnati. They're good people," Johnson said. "That speaks volumes for Tampa. They've brought in good people. I like being around good people. I'm excited to be a part of this new regime. They've already got a lot of talented players down here. I looking forward to being added on as a piece of the puzzle."
Johnson thought he was surrounded by good people in Cincinnati and wanted to come back. The Bengals wanted him back. The numbers didn't get close and Johnson wants to leave it at that. Johnson couldn't turn his back on nearly $9 million per year. The Bengals couldn't pull the trigger on another huge defensive line deal less than a year after committing nearly $100 million to two of them and more marquee salaries at higher-paid positions loominng this upcoming season.
Business, as Johnson said.
"I'm going to say what I said last year after I got the tag," said Johnson of the $11 million franchise designation. "No hard feelings. I think it worked out best for both sides and I think this worked out best for both sides. I wouldn't want one side to be upset at the other side because some things didn't go the way some people may have wanted them to go. I think both sides are going to be OK."
But Johnson is going to be a hard guy to miss. Whether it was batting down a pass in a breakneck fourth quarter or devoting a chunk of his day off to one of his many charitable ventures, he did it with passion, zest, and talent.
Hard to miss? He had to chuckle because his image is on the NFL's Play 60 posters in the Cincinnati schools this year, which is fitting.
"I had a good run in Cincy," Johnson said. "We made the playoffs four out of five years. We had a very good defense every year I was there. People talked about having one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. I'm thankful that I was part of it. I enjoyed my teammates. It's part of the business."
Part of the business is coming back. It happens quickly. Tampa Bay vs. Bengals at the home of the ship in Tampa in 2014. TBA next month. Johnson had been hoping it was at Paul Brown Stadium.
"It'll be a great homecoming. I hope the fans show me some love when I make a tackle or something and they call my name," he said.
The homecoming will have to wait. But there will be some familar faces.