Depth along the defensive line is always something an NFL team needs, but it is a priority for these New England Patriots. They found out first hand how not having depth in the middle can hurt you, as they lost both of their starting tackles to start the 2013 season, and finished ranked 30th in the league in run defense. Depth on the edge is also important, because a good pass rush covers up just about every weakness your defense has.
Michael Johnson has had a productive five year career, totaling 202 tackles, and 26.5 sacks in that short span. His breakout season was back in 2012, where he amassed 11.5 sacks. But he isn’t your prototypical defensive tackle. In fact, he is suited much better to play out on the edge. While this is an area of strength for the Patriots, I think the addition of Johnson would help put this defense over the top. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are both great defensive ends, specifically Jones, who has the ability to become a real star in this league. But Johnson is a talented player, and as we saw in the AFC Championship game in Denver, you have to be able to get pressure on quarterbacks to win in this league. If Jones and Ninkovich aren’t getting it done, you can send it Johnson, who may be able to produce. Not only that, but as the Giants famously did to the Patriots in two Super Bowls, New England could run a ‘NASCAR’ type of package, where they run four defensive ends at the quarterback. Just think if Johnson had been on this squad back on January 19th. Would Peyton have just sat back in the pocket all day with nobody near him? Who knows. If the Pats had someone like the 6’7 Johnson, we might be talking about the defending Super Bowl champions right now.
If the Patriots feel like they can find the money to go out and get a guy like Johnson, then I say go for it. Finding game changing players on the defensive side of the ball is hard to do, making this an opportunity that might not come by too often. Sure, you could address this through the draft, but I have seen far too many pass rushing busts for me to me comfortable with the Patriots being aggressive on that front (Jermaine Cunningham anyone?). But Johnson is a proven commodity in this league, and since it appears that he wont’ be re-signed by Cincinnati, he will be available for New England to snatch up.