7:54 PM ET
- David NewtonESPN Staff Writer Close
- Covered Panthers, NFL for 11 years
- More than 25 years experience covering NFL, college football and NASCAR
- Joined ESPN in 2006
Then the team's second-all-time sack leader (67.5) said he was ready to help recruit Carolina's all-time sack leader (81), Julius Peppers, set to become an unrestricted free agent after spending the past three seasons at Green Bay.
Terms: Two years, $9.5 million
Grade: This gets an A for several reasons. Johnson's not the pass rush threat he once was, collecting only five sacks over the past two years. But he was the team's most consistent defensive lineman in 2016 and he still eats up blocks for others to make plays. And he's loyal. He could have gotten more money elsewhere, but he wants to retire with the team that made him a third-round pick in 2007. "We've got two years to get it done,'' he said of winning a Super Bowl in a video he posted on Twitter. "I'll give you my blood, sweat and tears. I bleed black and blue, and that's going to be 'till I retire.'' Johnson also happens to be one of Carolina's best locker room leaders and, as he mentioned, is ready to recruit the 37-year-old Peppers to join him in his pursuit of a championship.
What it means: Continuity. The Panthers will have the same four-man defensive end rotation — Johnson, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison and Wes Horton — they had a year ago when the defense finished second in the NFL in sacks with 47. They also have the luxury to add another piece or two in Peppers and a draft pick. And they are doing it at a bargain when you consider the combined average salary of Johnson, Addison, Ealy and Horton in 2017 will be less than the average $17.2 million a year the Jets are paying end Muhammad Wilkerson.
What's the risk: Johnson has missed 10 games over the past two seasons due to quad/hamstring issues. He's set to become 31 in July, so age is a factor. But Johnson seemingly learned how to take better care of himself this past season when he missed only three games. Combine that and his passion to win a title at Carolina makes the player that once was known as “Big Money'' after signing an NFL-record $76 million extension in 2011 was a bargain for under $5 million a year.