“With news that Rey Maualuga could potentially be back next season, what should his role with the team be?”
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.
More recently, as posted on NFL.com, Coach Lewis told Gregg Rosenthal that Maualuga is “One of the guys you gotta get back in the fold.” Lewis called him “young” and “coachable” and cited the value of his leadership and experience. Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer predicts alot of remorse should he get away calling Maualuga “alot better than people give him credit for.” Perhaps with this kind of support from his coaches, we might hope that the team is able to make the necessary arrangements to keep him in Cincinnati.
It’s hard to think of a suitable substitute for experience, particularly in the form of young, home-grown talent that knows Cincinnati football and tasted Bengals’ hunger for play-off success. When Justin Smith left Cincinnati for San Francisco, the Bengals saw a pricey defensive free agent get away and end up making a huge impact elsewhere. Clearly, with Maualuga, they have an opportunity to make the same mistake this time though, not so far away.
For the 2013 season ahead, the Bengals will face the Superbowl champions twice. Should Maualuga end up on the opponent’s sidelines, those games start looking pretty ugly.