Report: Browns "Very Interested" in Bengals DE Michael Johnson

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

How would you feel about the Cleveland Browns signing one of the Bengals' top free agent defensive ends one year in Frostee Rucker, only to cut him the following year and then again pursue the Bengals' top free agent defensive ends? According to Brent Sobleski of from ESPN Rumor Central, the Browns are "very interested" in doing just that:

Last year, Michael Johnson became the full-time starter for the Bengals and flourished with 11.5 sacks, emerging as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. Getting Johnson would be a higher-profile signing than Rucker, but it might be a moot point to even think about the Browns signing him. While the Browns have the second-highest amount of cap space available to spend, the Bengals have even more money to spend. Even if the Bengals can't reach a deal this year with Johnson, Football Outsiders thinks there is a fair chance that he will be franchised:

While Geno Atkins deservedly got most of the hype for Cincinnati's massive defensive improvement over the second half of the season, Johnson was also an integral part of the renaissance. He leapt from 6.0 sacks in 2011 to 11.5 in 2012, a number he supplemented with eight quarterback hits and 13 hurries. Johnson's length and leverage was also a factor in the running game, and his lengthy frame makes him a perennial threat to bat down passes at the line at a high rate. The defensive end tag is steep at nearly $11 million, but the Bengals have so much cap space that they could use the tag as leverage to work towards an extension. With Atkins, Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals have an impressive front line worth keeping together.

On the same note, the Bengals could be facing a similar situation with offensive tackle Andre Smith, who is also a free agent. If the Bengals were to franchise Smith, Johnson could potentially be lured away from Cincinnati at the right price. Do you think Cleveland should push hard for Johnson if he isn't franchised? And, if so, would he project as a defensive end or an outside linebacker in Ray Horton's defense?

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