The Vikings came up short in their pursuit of free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson. Johnson on Sunday decided to go with his former team instead of his former coach, agreeing to return to the Cincinnati Bengals instead of reuniting with Mike Zimmer with the Vikings.
Johnson signed a four-year deal reportedly worth $20 million. The Bengals will pay him $6 million in 2015.
Johnson was in the Twin Cities on Friday to visit the Vikings. He checked out Winter Park, toured the area, saw the new downtown stadium site and had dinner with team officials. But Zimmer and the Vikings were unable to talk him into signing a deal before he headed to the airport Saturday morning.
The Vikings and the Bengals were believed to be the only teams Johnson was strongly considering, and in the end he decided to with the Bengals, who drafted him in the third round in 2009. He cited having unfinished business with his Bengals teammates and his fondness for Cincinnati as his primary reasons.
“Next to Selma, Alabama, this is my home,” Johnson told the Bengals’ website. “Everything from my brothers on the field, to the community, to the stadium tours I did with the kids. Everything about it. I’m blessed. How many people get a chance to do this?”
The 28-year-old had 26.5 sacks during his original five-season stint with the Bengals, with Zimmer serving as his defensive coordinator. He spent last season with Tampa Bay, which released Johnson on Wednesday after he had only four sacks in 2014.
It’s unclear where the Vikings will turn to next after missing out on Johnson. They have had interest in other free-agent defensive ends, but many of the top ones are off the market. Greg Hardy, George Selvie, Mathias Kiwanuka and Da’Quan Bowers are among the more notable names left.