Cincinnati Bengals: How Rey Maualuga's Legal Woes Could Impact Cincy's Offseason

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2012

CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 27:  Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals is pictured during the NFL game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on September 27, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Bengals won 23-20.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NFL has finally entered the offseason, and with it comes yet another member of the Cincinnati Bengals running into trouble with the law.

The Associated Press reported that Rey Maualuga was charged with assault after allegedly being involved in bar fight late last Sunday morning. The police investigated the alleged assault on Sammy Laham, manager of the bar Luxe, and subsequently hit Maualuga with the charge.

This isn’t Rey’s first encounter with the law in recent memory. In 2010, he was placed on two years of probation for drunk driving. Incidentally enough, his probation for that conviction ended a few days before this assault charge.

If Maulauga is found guilty he will likely face a hefty suspension from the NFL league office. If alcohol is involved in the incident, it would be a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, as well.

With Mr. Maualuga's most recent black eye for the Bengals organization, one has to wonder if the team will keep him around if convicted. He is in the final year of his cheap rookie deal from 2009 and set to become a free agent after next season.

Not only are the legal problems an issue, but Maualuga's play has been wildly inconsistent, as well. He moved to his natural position of middle linebacker this past season and still suffered the same issues as he did on the outside: being weak in coverage and habitually over-pursuing plays, which led to big gains for the opposition.

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If the Bengals decide to part ways with Maualuga, they have a few options for a replacement. They could stay in-house with a guy like Dan Skuta, who was consistent last season with Maualuga on the sideline because of injury.

They could also look to move the oft-forgotten Roddrick Muckelroy. He was drafted in 2010 out of Texas and looked solid in spot duty during his rookie season. He missed all of last year, however, after being placed on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon.

If the Bengals choose free agency to address the linebacking corps, there are plenty of great options such as the Cleveland Browns’ D’Qwell Jackson, the Atlanta Falcons’ Curtis Lofton and the Detroit Lions’ Stephen Tulloch.

This route seems unlikely, though, because each player will hit owner Mike Brown’s wallet significantly.

The 2012 NFL Draft seems to be the more likely option at this point. With two first-round picks, drafting a linebacker is certainly a possibility. Guys like Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Arizona State’s Vontaze Burfict are all options in the first round.

The Bengals have attempted to clean up their image over the past few years, but they have still flirted with risky players and are now paying the price once again.

This could likely deter the Bengals from selecting North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins or Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick—both of whom had their off-field issues—in the upcoming draft, despite their phenomenal talent.

On that same note, it could make them think twice before drafting Burfict, as well.

Wasting one of two first-round picks on replacing Maualuga seems crazy at this point, when the Bengals could use both to upgrade various needs, such as guard, safety, cornerback and running back.

It also seems less likely if the Bengals really are inclined to package both picks together to move up and take Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

Of course, all of this is based on the premise that Maualuga is convicted. Given his track record, it’s not that unfathomable.

While at USC, Maualuga had incidents that led to him falling out of the first round, and to the Bengals in the second. Having another alcohol-related incident days after completing a probation from a prior encounter with the law isn’t a good sign.

For the Bengals, arguably the most important offseason for the team in at least a decade just got much more complicated. The team is on the rise, so they must avoid this familiar trend. How the team handles these next few months will say a lot about the organization.

Even if Maualuga is cleared of the charge, the team needs to rethink not only its strategy, but having him on the roster, as well.