Updated: 7:15 p.m.
Tackle Tank Johnson's agent said Tuesday he has reached a deal with the Bengals that gives them more depth along the defensive line and very well may take them out of the derby for a defensive tackle at No. 6 in this month's draft.
After playing backup nose tackle for the Cowboys the past two seasons, Johnson and the Bengals feel like he's a better fit in defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's 4-3 scheme, particulalry as a pass rusher. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis also likes the idea of Johnson's ability to penetrate for a defense that finished last season second-to-last in the NFL in sacks per pass.
The Bengals confirmed the deal Tuesday evening in a news release. Johnson, who is traveling, couldn't be reached for comment. Agent Jerrold Colton said Johnson is expected in Cincinnati next week. No terms were available.
"We feel like this is a better defense for Tank to show his talent," Colton said. "He was extremely impressed with the coaches in their meetings with him and he's looking forward to working really hard for them. He's a guy that is only 27 and has a lot of football left."
The 6-3, 300-pound Johnson appears ticketed to a rotation with starting tackles Domata Peko and Pat Sims. How it affects free agent John Thornton's potential signing as a backup end/tackle remains to be seen, but Johnson becomes the fifth D-tackle on the roster, joining Peko, Sims, last year's fifth-rounder Jason Shirley, and Orien Harris.
Zimmer sees Johnson as the "3" technique on pass-rush downs, the tackle that usually lines up on the tight end side.
"We went back and watched tape on him from Chicago and he showed he's got a knack for getting there," Zimmer said after the deal was announced. "We hope we can get him after the passer. That's the hope. We'll get him out there in nickel and see what he can do."
Defensive line coach Jay Hayes is thinking along the same lines.
"He's an explosive guy with good hands who we think can contribute," Hayes said. "He proved he can play in a 4-3 in Chicago and he thinks it's a better fit for him, too. We're looking for him to rush the passer. He's done it before. He can push the pocket and beat guys. That's what we're looking for him to do. That's why we're brining him in here (to be part of the rotation)."
There are a total of 10 linemen, counting defensive ends Robert Geathers, Antwan Odom, Frostee Rucker, Jon Fanene and Eric Henderson, listed as both a linebacker and end.
The Bengals were extremely impressed with Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji when they coached him in January's Senior Bowl and he's considered far and away the best tackle prospect on the board. The Bengals figured to have considered him an option at No. 6, but signing Johnson opens up another position on offense, such as tackle or receiver. According to reports Tuesday, many's No. 1 running back, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, visited the Bengals.
Raji and his agents are disputing an SI.com report that he tested positive for drugs at the NFL scouting combine in January.
In his backup role last season, Johnson had one sack and 22 tackles. Johnson, 27, a second-round pick of the Bears out of Washington in 2004, had a career-high 25 tackles and five sacks in 2005 before going for 22 and 3.5 in '06. He has 12 career sacks and 2.5 more in the postseason. He has played 70 regular season games with 17 starts and five postseason games with three starts.
"He's a quick, penetrating kind of guy," Zimmer said last week after Johnson's visit. "He could help us that way. He played in a 3-4 in Dallas and that was different than what he did in Chicago."
Johnson was released by the Bears in June 2007 following incidents they said "embarrassed" them and earned him a suspension for the first eight games of the 2007 season after spending two months in jail following violation of probation on a gun charge.
He didn't have any off-field incidents in Dallas and Colton says he's turned his life around.
"Tank changed his lifestyle and he was happy to do it," Colton said after Johnson visited. "He's a family man and those things are far in his past. I know the Bengals are being very careful with the players they're bringing in because of some of the things that have happened."
Zimmer used his lengthy Dallas ties to check out Johnson's character and came away satisfied.
"I talked to a lot of football people down there, especially players," said Zimmer, who coordinated the Dallas defense for seven years before moving to Atlanta in 2007. "I asked if he was a good guy and if he was a guy they wanted as a teammate and they said they would and that he was a hard worker. And he wasn't in trouble for his two seasons down there."
Johnson, whose given name is "Terry," is the sixth unrestricted free agent to sign, joining wide receiver Laveranues Coles, running back Cedric Benson, linebacker Darryl Blackstock, safety Chris Crocker, and quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.
"We had a promising defensive performance last season, and the addition of Tank will increase our ability to apply pressure on the football," Lewis said in the news release. "That is our focus this offseason, to step up that pressure, and Tank is a proven guy who can do that against the run and the pass."