The Bengals have a host of key starters set to hit free agency next month, and they're undoubtedly working to re-sign many of them before they hit the open market.
While guys like Marvin Jones, Reggie Nelson, George Iloka and Adam Jones get most of the attention, another key defender set to become a free agent is linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. The former undrafted free agent out of Kansas State became Cincinnati's starting strongside linebacker during the 2014 season with Vontaze Burfict injured, but his role diminished in 2015 with the addition of A.J. Hawk.
After Lamur racked up 91 tackles, seven pass defenses and two interceptions through 14 games in 2014, his numbers dropped to 40 stops, three pass defenses and no picks this past season. He split time at the SLB spot with Hawk, who the team favored more as the year wore on, though Lamur was still one of the team's better coverage backers.
Making matters worse for Lamur was that he suffered a knee injury in the Week 17 finale against the Baltimore Ravens, which led to him being placed on Injured Reserve. However, Lamur has since recovered from said injury and appears to be hitting the offseason and free agency with full health.
I'm full go now. Feeling really good and healthy. #GloryToGod— Emmanuel Lamur (@EmanLamur) February 6, 2016
Does that mean the Bengals will re-sign him?
I doubt any other team makes a strong run at Lamur, given he's not exactly been an impact player during his first four years in the NFL. He's also missed time in every season due to injuries, including all of 2013 with a torn shoulder labrum.
But do the Bengals even have room for Lamur? Following his most recent injury, the team called up practice squad linebacker Trevor Roach and immediately made him active in the Wild Card round vs the Pittsburgh Steelers, during which he played on special teams. That's a good sign the team likes what they have in him, which may help make Lamur more expendable.
The Bengals also have Hawk, Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga, P.J. Dawson, Marquis Flowers (played 16 games in 2014) and Jayson DiManche (played in 28 games from 2013-14) signed through next season. I anticipate impending free agent Vinny Rey to be re-signed, so that keeps Cincinnati pretty deep at linebacker going into next season.
The good news for Lamur is that Burfict will be suspended to start next season while Hawk is now 32-years-old and probably has just a year or two left in him. Those two things make re-signing Lamur and having him Week 1 next season more important, and I do think the Bengals will re-sign him this offseason.
Then when Hawk is gone within the next year or so, Lamur can go back to his starting SAM spot, and at worst, be the first backup at the position in the coming years.