Although teams cannot officially start signing free agents until Tuesday, negotiations between players and organizations can occur starting at noon on Saturday. Even prior to this weekend’s unofficial start to the annual land grab that is free agency, the Philadelphia Eagles were attached to one of the biggest names on the market, Bengals pass-rusher Michael Johnson.
Eagles showing interest in edge rusher Michael Johnson. But will the price tag be too steep? http://t.co/shf93RZDND
— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) March 7, 2014
In the beat reporter for 97.5 the fanatic’s article, he also includes potential targets in Mike Neal (GB) and Rob Jackson (WSH). McManus also speculates that the Eagles would have been major players for Steelers pass-rusher Jason Worilds, but Pittsburgh signed him to the transitional tag and appear ready to match any offer.
As far as Johnson goes, his physical frame alone makes it pretty easy to see why Chip Kelly, Mr. ‘Big people beat up little people’, covets him. The 6’7″ 260 pound 27-year old who just capped off his fifth season with the Bengals is a physical freak of nature. Despite the fact that he has played defensive end his entire career in Cincinnati, Johnson’s elite athleticism, natural pass-rushing skills, and impressive frame make him an intriguing option for the 3-4 outside linebacker position.
It’s tough to translate Johnson’s statistics over to what would be a new position, but it’s worth noting he’s been a productive, if not dominant player at times during his first five seasons. Highlighted by an 11.5 sack year in 2012, Johnson has averaged just over five sacks a season and a little over 25 tackles. Johnson also knocked down 10 passes in 2013, a stat that softened the blow of his pedestrian 3.5 sacks.
Pursuing Johnson could be complicated for the Eagles. Because they would be pursuing him to play a position he has never had to in the NFL, one would have to think GM Howie Roseman & Co. would prefer not to pay Johnson top-dollar. Were Jason Worilds to have hit the open market, it would be easier to see the team throwing a more substantial contract his way. While Johnson may be a more imposing physical presence and his ceiling as an outside linebacker might be higher than Worilds, his lack of experience playing in a stand-up role could, and should prevent a team from breaking the bank on him.
Working against this sentiment is the fact that Johnson is probably the best pass rusher remaining in free agency and that there are teams that run a 4-3 defense that would probably be thrilled to attain his services. He’s only 27 years old, still appears to be coming into his own, and plays a big money position in the NFL.
Rob Jackson and Mike Neal are both more economical options that could fill a stop-gap role while the team waited for a more impactful player. Still, I would not be surprised at all if this pursuit of Johnson is real. The Eagles got by masking the deficiencies of a defensive end playing outside linebacker for most of 2013 with Trent Cole playing out of position. Connor Barwin and the rest of the linebacking corps is pretty strong in coverage and the Eagles are in serious need of pass-rushing assistance.
The Eagles have already been attached to a few names in free agency and one has to imagine more will follow. Although Howie Roseman has adamantly exclaimed that the team won’t be reckless in free agency, the Eagles have a ton of cap room and are close to contending. Whether it is on offense or defense, I fully expect the team to make at least one major splash on the open market. Stay tuned for any further developments.