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Rey Maualuga cut by Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals continue to get younger on defense.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In an anticipated move, the Cincinnati Bengals have cut veteran linebacker Rey Maualuga, the team announced Saturday. Signed to a $15 million extension in 2015, Cincinnati decided to part ways with the linebacker before the final season of his three-year deal.

As the 2015 season progressed, it appeared Maualuga fell out of favor in the Queen City, eventually losing snaps to Vincent Rey and Nick Vigil late in the year.

Rey has been a tough and productive player for us, and a fine teammate, and this is a difficult decision,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “It’s one of several we have made to transition to a younger group at linebacker as we continue to shape our 2017 roster. We wish Rey and his family the very best.”

Cincinnati seemed to see this coming, as well, structuring Maualuga’s contract in a way that the team won’t be on the hook for a single dollar of the ‘backer’s 2017 salary. Additional, the team is saving $3.75 million against the cap with Maualuga’s departure. The former USC linebacker, who once teamed with Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing to form one of the NCAA’s most lethal linebacking units, unfortunately fits the mold of an antiquated linebacker which has been slowly phased out of the league. Guys like Maualuga and former Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, who are pure run-thumpers (and essentially one or two-down players) aren’t worth the money they were once being paid.

Maualuga totaled just 27 tackles last season (a career low), along with two pass deflections and a pick. After suffering a fibula injury in Cincinnati’s London matchup against Washington, Maualuga couldn’t ever seem to fight his way back into the lineup.

Maualuga’s best stretch came in 2011-12, as the veteran helped Cincinnati make two improbable playoff runs with Andy Dalton (then a rookie) at quarterback in a year many experts predicted the Bengals would be one of the worst teams in the NFL, if not the worst.

In 2011 — Dalton’s rookie season — Maualuga recorded 88 tackles and forced three fumbles, along with five run stuffs, two passes defensed, a fumble recovery and an interception. He helped a defense which had previously ranked 18th in the NFL up to seventh in the league. That year, Cincinnati forced 26 fumbles, good for third in the NFL. In 2012, Maualuga finished with 122 tackles, good for second on the Bengals behind Vontaze Burfict. That year, the veteran tallied a sack, a run stuff, four passes defensed and a fumble recovery.

Maualuga’s cutting marks an official passing of the torch from he to Burfict as the team’s leader at the linebacker position, if Burfict already wasn’t that guy. He, Kevin Minter and Nick Vigil will likely lead the team at linebacker, with Rey coming in as the first ‘backer off the bench.