Pointedly, keeping only five linebackers on any NFL final roster is nearly unheard of. Indeed, some 3-4 defenses will have that many proto-typical linebackers on the field several times during any given Sunday. With the Taylor Mays experiment (version 2) still in the theoretical planning phase, the Bengals can and must sincerely consider fully-loading the talent level inside of their core five if this is going to be a defensive model for the future.
Lamur will be back next season; Harrison likely will be as well for a possible farewell tour. Maualuga is making the case for his continued employment, and Burfict is a rising superstar. As Cincinnati’s roster expands its solidified core, they are quickly becoming a ‘best player available’ team. Sewing in a fifth top-caliber linebacker should be considered a top priority not just for 2014, but also the inevitable retirement of Harrison sometime in the next 2-3 years. The Bengals should be taking hard looks at safety-hybrid-backers Morgan Breslin from USC or Karlos Williams of FSU in order to develop more flexibility and depth into the defensive roster that this year is already in a reactionary mode.
Indeed, our younger players may emerge as this missing fifth or next season may see a return to six or even seven linebackers in order to regain versatility, so it is possible that this problem may work itself out before the 2014 NFL Draft. Regardless, the several minutes when Burfict’s season was in question demonstrated an area of concern that cannot be ignored.