3:02pm: The Buccaneers have officially released Johnson, the team announced in a press release.
2:31pm: The Buccaneers continue to part ways with their top pickups from 2014’s free agent period. Having already cut quarterback Josh McCown and tackle Anthony Collins, the team is releasing defensive end Michael Johnson today, reports Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter).
It was a year ago today that the Bucs signed Johnson to a five-year, $43.75MM contract to help solidify Tampa Bay’s defensive line. Like most Bucs, Johnson had an underwhelming 2014 campaign — he logged just four sacks, and Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 53rd-best 4-3 defensive end, out of 59 qualified players (subscription required).
Johnson has never been a particularly dangerous pass rusher, outside of his 11.5-sack season in 2012, but even his usually strong run defense fell off last season, per PFF. By cutting him now, the Bucs will still carry $7MM in dead money, but will avoid having additional money become guaranteed. Per Over the Cap, Johnson’s guarantee would’ve increased by a total of $7MM if he had remained on the roster beyond this week. Tampa Bay clears $2MM in cap space with the move.
The Bengals, Johnson’s old team, are expected to have interest once he officially becomes available, and I expect they’ll have plenty of company. The 28-year-old will also have the opportunity to double-dip in free agency — his contract with the Bucs, which guaranteed some of his 2015 base salary, didn’t feature offsets, so he’ll receive that money on top of whatever he gets on a new deal.