The Cincinnati Bengals are bringing back Rey Maualuga.
The two sides have agreed to a new three-year deal to keep the veteran linebacker from hitting free agency, the team announced Thursday. NFL.com reporter Albert Breer tweets that the contract is worth $15 million. According to former agent and salary cap expert Joel Corry, Maualuga will earn $7.5 million in 2015, which includes a $4.5 million roster bonus on March 11. Maualuga's cap number is projected at $7.138 million.
Since 2009, the Bengals have featured a top-seven defense in four of those seasons -- all with Maualuga starting at linebacker. Maualuga is not the reason for that, but he has played a big part in it.
"Rey is a physical force on the field and a great teammate in our locker room," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a press release. "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 was held to 59 tackles last season, due to a hamstring injury that caused him to miss four games, but when he returned for the last seven games, the Bengals saw a resurgence in the team’s rush defense. His return for Games 10-16 of last season helped the Bengals allow only 82.0 rushing yards per game over that span, the second-best figure in the NFL for the span.
Maualuga has 482 career tackles since being drafted out of USC in the second round of the 2009 draft while playing in 85 games during six seasons. Maualuga has also chipped in with five interceptions and 17 pass deflections over that span.
His -0.1 Pro Football Focus Grade last season was the best he's had since 2010, when he was the starting strongside backer. After facing criticism regarding his production as a three-down backer in the middle, it appeared that the Bengals found Maualuga's niche as a two-down backer while hiding his weaknesses -- and noticeable aggressiveness.
Maualuga will likely retain his starting middle linebacker role in 2015 and beyond.