On March 18, a little before noon, Adam Schefter tweeted that the Bengals and Rey Maualuga had agreed to a new two-year, $6.5 million deal. The deal was to be expected as the five-year veteran found almost no interest from other teams in his free agency.
The Bengals community is split on Maualuga and what he has to offer. Drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, there was a lot expected of the former Trojan. He showed promise in his first few years and was eventually moved into the middle-linebacker role with which he was most familiar. It was in this middle-linebacker role that Maualuga began receiving heavy scrutiny.
With expectations so high and so much responsibility given over to Maualuga, many expected him to thrive in a defense that was developing into one of the best in the league.
Statistically, he looked alright, racking up tackles from the center of the field. But to the trained eye? There were many reasons to worry about the player once rated as a first-round pick.
You don't have to look deep into his history to find a game that summarizes his struggles. In a wild-card game against the Houston Texans on Jan. 5, Maualuga was torn apart. Tasked with keeping the Texan's tight ends in check, Maualuga allowed Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham to bring in 12 catches for 120 yards.
In addition, he looked inept against the run (Arian Foster rushed for 140 yards on 32 carries) and looked downright lost at some of the most crucial moments of the game.
This wasn't the first game in which Maualuga has struggled, but it was the first time that an opposing offensive coordinator predicated his offense on attacking the Bengals' linebacker.
Fans were livid and many were glad to see his contract expire, hoping that the team would look to the draft for one of many highly lauded linebackers.
The March 18 news indicates that the villain of the Bengals' defense would be returning. But is that as bad as you might think?
The short answer is no. There are many parts of this deal that you shouldn't like. $6.5 million over two years represents a substantial raise for a player that failed to live up to his head coach's challenge.
His return might also mean the Bengals opt to wait for later in the draft for a linebacker, instead attempting to address needs at safety and running back as well as depth at cornerback and on the defensive line. It might also mean that Thomas Howard, coming off an season-ending ACL injury, won't get re-signed despite his brilliant play.
But the positives outweigh the negatives. Yes, there are questions about Rey's ability but given his poor showing at middle linebacker and rookie Vontaze Burfict's absolute dominance on the outside, we will likely see the two players switch positions.
Maualuga began his Bengals career on the outside and was actually pretty good, which is what initially drove so many to call for his shift into the center.
You also have to realize that Maualuga is a very hard worker and a role model professional on the field. For a team that likes giving high-risk players a chance, his influence could prove invaluable.
He has the respect of his coaching staff, with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer stating that Maualuga isn't given enough credit. He's a very passionate, emotional player and, when he's able to harness that passion, he can be impressive.
Finally, you have to note that while he might be getting more money than you'd like, the deal is only for two years. This isn't a blockbuster deal. Do you really expect Mike Brown to shell out big money, especially on someone with Maualuga's inconsistencies?
At its center, this deal is solid and keeps a core player in an unheralded Bengals' defense. I don't think Maualuga is going to blow us away in the coming seasons. I fully expect him to continue to struggle in coverage and in over-committing to the run.
But he is a leader, and he wants to play in Cincinnati, and those are traits that the team really needs.
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