Vontaze Burfict has averaged less than nine games per season during the past three years. The Cincinnati Bengals‘ leading tackler from 2016, Karlos Dansby, is now playing for the Cardinals, and long-time linebacker Rey Maualuga was finally relieved of his duties after last season. That makes Vincent Rey the Bengals’ only returning linebacker, with a track record of remaining healthy, who had more than 14 tackles last year. Can Rey’s experience, health, and stability help him maintain his roster spot in 2017?
Weight: 250 pounds
Hometown: Far Rockaway, NY
Experience: 7th Year Player
Draft Status: Undrafted (2010)
Rey signed a three year $10.5 million contract before the 2016 season, which has two more years on it. Per Spotrac, he is due $3.25 million for the 2017 season, and $2.75 million in 2018. This works in his favor, because both Burfict and Kevin Minter are unrestricted free agents after the 2017 season, meaning Rey is the only linebacker with significant experience signed beyond this year. But if the Bengals were to cut him, he has no dead cap space attached to his contract and the Bengals do have an opt out option after this year.
When most people think of Duke’s athletic program, they either envision the basketball team, which has had great success, or the lacrosse team’s scandal. But Duke also has a football team, which has produced a handful of NFL players. Half a century ago, Sonny Jurgensen and Mike Curtis were carrying the torch for Duke football. Fifty years later, it’s Ben Watson and Vincent Rey as the most successful Duke alumni on NFL fields.
Rey was a productive linebacker for the Blue Devils, accumulating more than 300 tackles, 27.5 sacks, and three interceptions during his final three seasons. But it was easy to overlook a linebacker on a team who struggled through a dismal 10-38 record during his time with the team. He was overlooked by NFL teams and not invited to the NFL Combine, but a 4.58 time in the 40 yard dash and a 38.5” vertical did enough to warrant a tryout with the Bengals after the NFL Draft, with whom he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010.
Added on the practice squad for the 2010 season, Rey joined the 53-man roster late in that season, playing in a pair of games. He has appeared in 16 games in every season since then with his playing time slowly increasing since 2010. That includes significant stints as a starter since 2014, leading the Bengals in tackles in two of the last three seasons, 2014 (121 total) and 2015 (98 total) seasons.
The unquestioned top two linebackers headed into the 2017 season will be Vontaze Burfict and Kevin Minter. Beyond that, there are a lot of players battling for a limited number of spots. The team likes second year player Nick Vigil, who is unlikely to get cut so early into his career and is expected to start in 2017. Carl Lawson has impressed many in OTAs, and is seemingly all but assured a spot in the linebacking group when the season begins as a fourth round draft pick. Rey is pretty much a near-lock to be among those other four, with P.J. Dawson, Marquis Flowers, Brandon Bell, Bryson Albright and Hardy Nickerson fighting for the remaining roster spot(s). Even if a few of those linebackers listed above have a great training camp, it’s very difficult to imagine the Bengals moving on from an experienced veteran who they have invested so much time in, given the team’s loyal devotion to keeping their own players for as long as it’s financially feasible. Rey also has been a special teams captain and a great player on that unit, boosting his overall value. He may not play as much on defense in 2017, assuming everyone stays healthy, but he’ll certainly have a big role on special teams.
And if Burfict, Minter or Vigil get injured, Rey is the first man off the bench, a role in which he’s thrived for the last few years.
Roster Odds: 95 percent.