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Thursday, March 7, 2013
Top free agents in the division: No. 5

By Jamison Hensley

Free agency officially begins Tuesday, so the AFC North blog is counting down the 20 best free agents (unrestricted and restricted) from the teams in the division. Let's continue with No. 5 ...

MICHAEL JOHNSON

Bengals defensive end

Status: Franchise tag

The good: Johnson enjoyed his best season in the NFL last year, finishing second on the Bengals with 11.5 sacks and ninth in the league. He also recorded 34 quarterback hurries and eight quarterback hits. Johnson, though, was more than a pass-rusher. He made an impact on run defense as well.

The bad: The concern is whether or not Johnson peaked in a contract year. His 2012 sack total nearly doubled his previous career high of six. Also, three of Johnson's sacks came against a backup left tackle for the Redskins.

The bottom line: The Bengals chose to put the franchise tag on Johnson instead of offensive tackle Andre Smith, which keeps their young defensive line intact. Still, keep in mind, Johnson is the third-most talented lineman on that defense behind Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. The Bengals say they will try to work out a long-term deal with Johnson, but they might wait to see if he can duplicate his 2012 season before giving him a big contract.