After four seasons of being one of the Cincinnati Bengals‘ starting linebackers, former second-round draft pick Rey Maualuga is entering free agency this offseason with fans already wishing him well with his next team. Maualuga didn’t play well during the 2012 season, but he was an ever-present on the field. He was routinely exposed in coverage and didn’t make the impact plays that he had promised to in the past. The constant exposure and poor production has severely damaged the relatively young player’s reputation as he hits the open market. With undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict waiting to slide into his position, fans can be forgiven for no longer wanting Maualuga in Cincinnati.
Even though it’s almost certain Maualuga won’t re-sign with the team to be the starting middle linebacker, it’s not certain that he won’t re-sign with the team. Maualuga has the flexibility to become the team’s starting strong-side linebacker, effectively swapping positions with Burfict. Although he was exposed in coverage last season, as a strong-side linebacker he would carry less responsibility over the middle of the field and would instead be able to play to his strengths against the run.
The 26-year-old started at strong-side linebacker for the first two seasons of his career. He moved to middle linebacker to replace Dhani Jones in 2011. Maualuga was notably better as an outside linebacker than he was at middle linebacker despite having more experience in the league when he moved to his new position. While he may not be the most talented option for the Bengals to build their linebacking corps with, he does offer the team continuity that is expected to be lacking entering next season.