Making the Call: Should Bengals Re-Sign Rey Maualuga?


Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) against the Indianapolis Colts during the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

When free agency begins this year the Bengals will be flush with cap space.  In fact, according to Spotrac, the Bengals will have about $35 million to spend, the sixth most in the league.  This should leave the Bengals in a very favorable situation as they don’t have many significant free agents of their own to re-sign.

Would player who could be considered one of the team’s more significant free agents is Rey Maualuga.  After several disappointing years drawing much ire from fans, Maualuga had a much improved 2014 season.  But was his improvement enough to warrant a new deal from the Bengals?

Rey Maualuga makes his money when defending the run.  His presence is a positive one as the Bengals were much more effective stopping the run when he was on the field.  Maualuga’s downhill style was key in a division where each opponent poses a solid running attack.  Having a defender on the field who can effectively counter this attack is vital.

Not only this, but Maualuga helped the defense from a leadership standpoint as Vontaze Burfict missed much of the season due to various injuries.  It was this leadership that was most surprising from a player who struggled to succeed in such a role in the past.

In these ways, if the Bengals were to move on from Rey Maualuga, the defense would need to replace his run-stopping prowess prior to the start of 2015.

Yet, if, and assuming when, the Bengals and Rey Maualuga sit down to negotiate, it won’t be Maualuga who is holding all the bargaining chips.

Maualuga is a severely limited defender who can only be employed during obvious run situations.  He has noticeably struggled in coverage in the past, so he should not be on the field during these situations nor most third downs.  The Bengals have clearly begun to notice this as Maualuga was rightfully only employed on less than 40% of snaps (given he missed four games, but he also picked up some snaps because Burfict missed so many games).  In the coming year, if the linebacking core can stay healthy, his involvement in the defense will likely decrease.

Also working against Rey Maualuga is his assumed inability, or lack of experience on special teams.  Most players who play so few snaps contribute towards this unit.  Given it may have been the choice of the team, but as the Bengals acquires more youth, and will likely do so again this year with nine selections, at linebacker, Maualuga may have to start finding ways to contribute beyond running situations.  Maualuga’s noticeable lack of versatility again rears its ugly head here.

Finally, and this is where both parties may find themselves most willing to separate, is money.  Although the Bengals have plenty of cap space in the coming year, they will have several players to re-sign in the coming years.  Cap space will be key in these years and Rey Maualuga’s salary demands far exceed any younger player.  Additionally, his cap hit this past year was just over $3.8 million, which is a pretty substantial amount for a player who finds himself on the field as little as Maualuga does.  The Bengals simply can’t put themselves in this position beyond this year.

On the other side of this negotiation is Maualuga.  At 28 years old, it’s likely he’ll be seeking a contract beyond a one-year guarantee.  It’s only smart and considering that 2014 was by far Maualuga’s best year in recent memory, this may be his last chance to “cash in.”

Because Rey Maualuga lacks versatility but is a proven run-stopper, his retention isn’t the worst idea especially in a division that emphasizes the run.  But re-signing him should only happen at the right price.  And because of Maualuga’s age and monetary priorities at this point in his career, it’s likely that he’d earn more money and more playing time elsewhere.  When off-season activities begin this year, it’s more prudent for the Bengals to invest in youth and versatility and for Maualuga to find greater opportunity and income elsewhere.

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