According to a report from Tim McManus of Birds 24/7, the Philadelphia Eagles have “some” interest in DE Michael Johnson and OLB Mike Neal. Of these two players, Johnson would be the expensive guy and Neal the mid-level guy.
However, neither player really seems like much of a fit and I find the interest in them a little puzzling.
Let’s first look at Johnson:
He has great size at 6′ 7″, 266 lbs and is somewhat athletic in that he ran a 4.69 40 at the combine in 2009. However, in the 3-cone, a drill that is important in measuring a player’s lateral agility and ability to change direction, he had a slow time of 7.42.
In five seasons with the Bengals, Johnson has posted 26.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. He has also been credited with 22 batted passes, per Pro Football Focus.
2012 was his best season with 11.5 sacks but only had 3.5 in 2013. Johnson has the physical tools and looks the part to be a dominant defensive end. In fact, PFF has him as their fourth rated DE in 2013, despite the low sack number (mainly due to his prowess as a good run defender).
The problem is that he has spent his entire career, college and pro, as a 4-3 defensive end. PFF tallied him dropping into coverage 31 times in 2013, but take that with a grain of salt because Trent Cole would drop into coverage from time to time as a 4-3 DE as well.
I would imagine the Eagles would be signing Johnson to play the OLB position and not as a lineman. In that sense, it would be like transitioning someone all over again just like Cole had to do this past season.
That would seem to be counterproductive. Why waste that time again? If you want a 3-4 OLB, go sign a guy that is a 3-4 OLB or at least has experience with it. Plus, Johnson seems like somewhat of an underachiever in being the least productive player on a pretty good Cincy DL.
The only thing I can fathom is that the Eagles think he could be better as a 3-4 OLB rather than a 4-3 DE. But, for the money they would most likely have to pay for him, they should be getting a guy that can step right in and not have to retrain to play a different position.
Johnson’s former defensive coordiner Mike Zimmer is in Minnesota and that seems like a better landing spot for him.
As for Mike Neal, he is another big guy at 6′ 3″ and somewhere around 290 lbs. He was a defensive tackle in college and was a second round pick by the Packers in 2010. He played 3-4 DE as a part time player until dropping 15 lbs (to get to around 290) to play OLB in 2013.
His measurables at the combine were what you might expect from a defensive tackle. And now four years later you are trying to convert him to outside linebacker? Though he had five sacks in his first year as a starter, he didn’t really stand out in any one area.
Again, what exactly would the Eagles be looking at him as? He seems out of position at OLB and certainly would’t be an upgrade over Trent Cole. He doesn’t have the speed to be an edge rusher and doesn’t have the athleticism to drop and cover effectively.
At best he would have to be a depth player here or a guy the Eagles view as interchangable between lining up at DE or OLB on any given play. Either way, he’s not “the answer” but I suppose he could be a decent depth player.
In either case, much would depend on how much money they would cost. Johnson will surely demand more money and will be looking to be a starter. Is he worth it? What would become of Trent Cole?
Neal would be cheaper but is he really a good fit?
I can’t say I’m excited about either player although Johnson would be the more exciting of the two. But if the Eagles are going to spend good money on a player, they’d be better served using it on a player like Jairus Byrd who they know they’d be getting much better return on their investment.
With this news and the reports about the Eagles inquiring about Dion Jordan and having strong interest in Jason Worilds, it would seem that they are intent on finding an OLB in free agency.
Given the barren free agent landscape at this position, I still say someone like O’Brien Schofield would yield better return on their money over Johnson and Neal.