With three cornerstone players looking at free agency after the Bengals fourth playoff season in five years, early reports were mixed on Rey Maualuga. The team tagged DE Michael Johnson with the franchise tag that will keep him in stripes for at least one more year. OT Andre Smith is looking for a huge raise despite his mediocre performance in 2012 that left him without a Pro Bowl invitation or, in fact, inclusion in many of the media’s “Top 2012 Offensive Linemen” lists.
Into free agency, Maualuga carries his four years of experience with the Bengals who drafted him as the thirty-eighth pick in the 2009 second round out of USC. During those four seasons, he has started all but five games and has improved his output each season. His quickness and ability to apply the strong finish to blockers and runners alike has made him a key defender first as an outside linebacker but, for the last two seasons, as an inside linebacker.
Initially, Adam Caplan of The Sideline View reported that the team would “take a pass” on Maualuga. Fans understood, recalling his frequent failure to wrap up open runners, equally frequent missed tackles on third and long, and his regrettable performance in the season ending, first round playoff loss in Houston. In addition, the Bengals have rising star Vontaze Burfict who has impressed coaches and fans alike in his rookie year at weak side linebacker. Further, with Ray Lewis’s retirement in Baltimore, perhaps the Ravens would like to acquire the familiar talent for themselves. After the Bengals made the move to protect Johnson, it seemed like Maualuga may have seen his last game in stripes.