(right) logged just 3.5 sacks in 2013, a year after tallying 11.5 sacks. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
With or without Darrelle Revis on their roster, the Buccaneers needed to find some help for their defense off the edge this offseason. They've done so -- at a price.
Tampa Bay reportedly has agreed to a four-year deal with former Bengals DE Michael Johnson. Per ESPN's Josina Anderson, the contract calls for Johnson to earn $24 million guaranteed and $43.75 million total on a five-year contract. The amount of guaranteed money currently sits as the fourth-most for any defensive end in the league, behind only Charles Johnson ($32 million), DeMarcus Ware ($25.6 million) and Mario Williams ($24.9).
Will that level of commitment pay off for the Buccaneers?
The answer may lie in which version of Michael Johnson they've landed. He was among the top pass-rushers in the league in 2012, when he recorded 11.5 sacks for Cincinnati, but his production tumbled to 3.5 sacks last season. Some of the explanation for that lies in the system of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who did not ask Johnson to pin his ears back as much as Lovie Smith will. Johnson also maintained a spot as a terrific run defender.
Tampa Bay will be counting on him for an impact in line with that '12 campaign. Having Gerald McCoy locked in at a defensive tackle spot ought to help out Johnson quite a bit. Johnson and Adrian Clayborn likely will serve as the starters off the edge, with McCoy and 2013 draft pick Akeem Spence handling the interior.
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Tampa Bay finished last season with just 35 sacks, ranking No. 23 in the league. As such, adding someone with the ability to pressure the QB was a top priority heading into free agency.
"Being off this past year, I had a chance to watch a lot of football so I knew about some of the players and I knew there was a great foundation in place, led by Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David," new Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith said at the combine. "We’re a 4-12 team in a tough division. But we feel like we can gain some ground."
The need to seal off the edges was of even more pressing importance given those division foes: Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans -- all of which possess top-tier quarterbacks, with the Panthers obviously having Cam Newton's athletic ability to fall back on. The Buccaneers received a stellar 2013 from Darrelle Revis (who may be playing elsewhere by the end of the week) and flanked him with talent like Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, yet still finished with a middle-of-the-road pass defense.
Much of the blame there could be pinned on Tampa Bay's inability to push the pocket. Several teams had their eyes on Johnson headed into this week because of what he brought to the table in that regard. The Buccaneers won the bidding war, though they had to open up their wallets to do so.
When he's on his game, Johnson will be just what the doctor ordered up front for Tampa Bay. For the amount of cash headed his way, Johnson has to deliver against the pass with more consistency than he did last season. Though narrowing the focus on a DE entirely down to sacks is a misguided notion, Tampa Bay is paying Johnson to be a dominant force. There's no guarantee he will be able to do that, hence a slightly lowered grade.