Buccaneers face $7 million question on Michael Johnson

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One of the benefits of the new trend toward pay-as-you-go contracts comes from the reality that, if the player doesn’t perform at a level worthy of his pay, the team can tell him to go.

Last year, the new regime in Tampa opted not to continue the year-to-year, $16 million annual deal for cornerback Darrelle Revis.  This year, the Bucs could decide to pull the plug after only one season with defensive end Michael Johnson.

Signed as a free agent after spending 2013 with the Bengals under the franchise tag, Johnson inked a five-year, $43.875 million deal with $23 million guaranteed.  Of that amount, $7 million will become fully guaranteed as of the third day of the 2015 league year.  Which means that the Bucs can avoid $7 million by cutting Johnson loose.

But here’s the problem for Tampa.  With $9 million already paid in 2014, the Bucs already owe Johnson another $7 million that is fully guaranteed, with no offset language.  So they’ll have to ask themselves whether they’re willing to let Johnson walk away with $16 million for one year — or whether they want to push the arrangement to $23 million over two.

Trading Johnson would be the best way to limit the investment to $9 million over one year, but who else would agree to take on $14 million over the next two years for a guy who is two years removed from his best season?  After notching 11.5 sacks in 2012, Johnson has a total of 7.5 since then.

So trading him won’t be easy, and keeping him won’t be cheap.  With $7 million already committed to him for 2015, the question becomes whether the Bucs are willing to make another $7 million commitment to justify the $7 million that’s already owed to the player.