CINCINNATI -- Free agency officially begins in less than a month as the 2016 league year begins.
Which of the Cincinnati Bengals' 15 unrestricted free agents will be back under their control that day? It's a question both the players and the team will spend the next four weeks scrambling to answer. Before we get too deep into the offseason, let's take a daily look at each of Cincinnati's free agents. Friday, we continue with:
LB Vincent Rey
Bengals service time: Six seasons (signed as a college free agent in 2010)
2015 cap charge: $3,100,000 (13th among 4-3 outside linebackers)
2015 stats: 98 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT
The lowdown: As you've undoubtedly heard by now, Bengals "Will" linebacker Vontaze Burfict's three-game suspension at the start of the 2016 season was upheld this week by the NFL. That means, for a short amount of time, the Bengals will be without their most intimidating and knowledgeable defender. You'll also recall that's what happened in 2015, too, when Burfict missed the first six games because he was recovering from an offseason microfracture surgery. Cincinnati absorbed his loss well across those six weeks, due in large part to solid contributions from Rey, his backup.
Burfict's suspension could make it all the more important for the Bengals to retain one of their most prized and developed players. Much like Burfict, Rey was an undrafted player the Bengals signed right out of college. Unlike Burfict, though, his career began primarily on special teams, where he turned enough coaches' heads that he became regarded as a veritable Swiss Army knife at linebacker by the 2013 season. Throughout his career, he has backed up at all three linebacker spots, but primarily has filled in for Burfict (in 2014 and 2015) and veteran starting inside linebacker Rey Maualuga (in 2013) in recent seasons. The three sacks, one interception and 26 tackles he had in three games when Maualuga went down with a knee injury in 2013 put Rey on the map as a reserve.
It was following the 2013 season when the Bengals re-signed Rey to a two-year contract. Regardless how short the terms of the deal were, it was still a sign of their growing confidence in him. The two deals he had agreed to prior than that were both one-year contracts.
Stay? Or go? Burfict's suspension aside, Rey has to stay in stripes. Not only does he provide a measure of stability in the games Burfict will miss, but also because the Bengals know what he can do on special teams. Much like Burfict, Rey is one of the more cerebral players in Cincinnati's defensive meeting room. The team would not want to part easily with a mind like his. What both Rey and the Bengals (or whichever team signs him next month) ultimately have to decide is how long will this contract be, and what is the fair value for it?
Although he has been a backup defender throughout his career, Rey has been getting starter's minutes for large chunks of the past three seasons, and he already knows there's a chance he will get more to begin 2016. He even ended 2015 as the Bengals' leading tackler.