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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Report: Bucs making 'hard push' for Cincy DE Johnson



The first 24 hours of the NFL's free agency contact period have come and gone quietly, with teams and agents hesitant to say much about where the biggest interest is, knowing contracts can't be signed until Tuesday afternoon.

One connection that has been made is the Bucs' interest in defensive end Michael Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals -- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported on Saturday night that the Bucs (and former Bears coach Lovie Smith) were making a "hard push" to sign Johnson, who is an unrestricted free agent after getting the franchise tag last year from the Bengals.

The Bucs' need for an elite pass-rusher is well-documented, and Johnson is rated among the best options in this class, despite having just 3.5 sacks last season in Cincinnati. A year earlier, he had 11.5 sacks in 2012, and the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder from Georgia Tech -- originally from Selma, Ala. -- has shown himself to be a versatile end, capable of holding his own in pass coverage when needed, having started in the NFL as an outside linebacker. Pro Football Focus, which rates him as the No. 7 overall free agent in this class, credited him with 61 pass pressures last year. 

Johnson had nine passes defensed last season, a high number for a lineman, and he's had one interception in each of the last three seasons. He was thought to be a prime target for the Vikings -- where Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is now head coach -- but Minnesota spent big to keep another free agent, Everson Griffen, which could take them out of contention. Chicago is also mentioned as a suitor, as is Atlanta.

[Last modified: Sunday, March 9, 2014 3:37pm]


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