The Bengals are on their bye enjoying a nice week off as they get some much-needed rest and relaxation.
However, there are some tough decisions that are going to be made when the team gets back next week in preparation for the Steelers. The biggest will be what to do with star linebacker Vontaze Burfict as he looks to make his 2015 debut in the coming weeks after opening the year on PUP.
Marvin Lewis has stated that Burfict won't be activated this week. But, Burfict will be able to practice under a roster exemption for the next three weeks. During that window, Burfict can be added to the 53-man roster, but once he is, someone must be cut or if injured, placed on Injured Reserve to free up a roster spot for him.
It's only fair to think another linebacker will be cut once Burfict is activated, but which backer gets cut will be a tough choice. It won't be Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey or P.J. Dawson, and it probably won't be Emmanuel Lamur. It would be hard to cut Chris Carter since he's more of a defensive end.
All of this means AJ Hawk could be the odd man out, should the Bengals choose to cut a linebacker when adding Burfict to the roster. That's what Bengals radio color analyst Dave Lapham thinks could happen, and he said as much on Lance Mcalister's radio show Tuesday night.
"Here's the veteran guy who doesn't play any special teams snaps," Lapham said of Hawk. "He's giving them a limited number of run snaps. He's not in any of the sub packages. If Vontaze is activated, the worst-case scenario is he gives you as many snaps as AJ Hawk, but you don't want to mess with the mix of the football team unless you have to."
Hawk has played in all six games this season at strongside linebacker with three starts, but has ended up playing limited snaps while registering just 13 tackles and no other defensive statistics. He's also just the 112th ranked linebacker on Pro Football focus out of 153 eligible backers. His playing time has been a roller coaster this season with 23 snaps in Week 1, five in Week 2, 39 in Week 3, seven in Week 4, 27 in Week 5, and 13 in Week 6.
It's safe to think he'll play even less once Burfict returns, not to mention if Dawson starts getting more snaps as the coaches begin trusting the rookie linebacker more. Safety Shawn Williams has also occasionally received snaps at linebacker. There could be a point where Hawk is actually a gameday inactive.
You never want to see a veteran cut in the middle of a season, but there aren't many, if any other options for the Bengals to consider as Burfict's return inches closer.