Much of the early discussion about Bengals free agency has centered on whether or not the team would be using the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson or tackle Andre Smith, but that’s hardly the only choice the team has to make this offseason.
Linebacker Rey Maualuga is also set to become a free agent next month, which doesn’t complicate the franchise tag decision but does give the Bengals another call to make about how their team will look next season. Coach Marvin Lewis told NFL.com that Maualuga is someone “you got to get back in the fold” while defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer compared losing Maualuga with the departure of defensive lineman Justin Smith several years ago.
“He is, as you will find out when this free agency period starts, a lot better than what a lot of people give him credit for,” Zimmer said, via the team’s website. “I think that’s going to be what people are going to find out if he goes. If he’s not here people are going to miss him and say we should have had him. That’s how it works, like Justin Smith.”
The route to keeping Maualuga is a fairly simple one. Offer him enough now to ensure that he doesn’t wind up testing the open market as a free agent in a couple of weeks. The issue there is that Maualuga may have a different, more expensive take on what that offer should be and that would leave the Bengals to hope that the other 31 teams read things the way they do so that Maualuga returns at a price they’re comfortable paying.