CINCINNATI — The Bengals have kept one of their own off of the free agent market by re-signing linebacker Rey Maualuga to a three-year deal through the 2017 season on Thursday.
Maualuga, 28, was one of 13 players for the Bengals who potentially could become unrestricted free agents on March 10 but instead will return for his seventh season since being drafted in the second round in 2009. He played in 12 games last season, missing four with a hamstring injury. Maualuga is the most veteran of a linebacker group that features no one else with more than four years of experience.
"Rey is a physical force on the field and a great teammate in our locker room," said head coach Marvin Lewis in a statement released by the team. "He’s a hard-working, dedicated player who continues to get better. As we have put together playoff teams the last four years, we’ve said more than once that a huge key is keeping productive players who know our system, and this is another big step in that plan."
Maualuga (6-2, 255 pounds) has been primarily used in first- and second-down situations the past couple of seasons, although he did come up with his fifth career interception in a win at Houston on Nov. 23.
The Bengals were ranked 31st in the NFL in rush defense heading into the Week 11 matchup at New Orleans, giving up an average of 143 yards of game. That was Maualuga’s first game back from injury and he made his return noticed immediately when he dropped Saints fullback Eric Long for a loss of one yard on a fourth-and-goal pass play in the second quarter. The Bengals improved to No. 20 in rush defense by the end of the season by allowing just 82 yards a game in their final seven games.
Seven different players started at one of the three linebacker spots last season for the Bengals as injuries hit the position group hard. Vontaze Burfict, Jayson DiManche and Sean Porter all ended the season on injured reserve. They signed Chris Carter as a street free agent in Week 13 and Nico Johnson off of Kansas City’s practice squad in Week 6 to help fill the voids left by various injuries.
It is the second time the Bengals have re-signed Maualuga. He became an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 season but returned with a two-year deal.