Rey Maualuga just got a raise but his weight is about to get cut.
Maualuga, the Bengals' 255-pound middle linebacker, heads to the gym Monday with a new $15 million contract for the next three years and a vow to shed about 10 pounds.
His outlook about his weight has fluctuated almost as much as his weight as heads into his seventh NFL season. Sometimes he has felt better heavy and sometimes he has felt better lighter. On Friday he agreed he's looking for the best of both worlds.
"The league has evolved and changed. There's a lot more pass emphasis," Maualuga said. "I'm concentrating on eating well and trying to lose a couple of pounds. The linebackers in this league are about between 230 and 245. The older you get, they say the slower you get. I'm trying to lose a few pounds and get my speed up to par with the rest of the guys."
All you have to do is look at the four inside linebackers projected to go in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, as ranked by Lindy's draft magazine. Only one, Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney, weighs more than 244 and two weigh less than 238.
The Bengals like how Maualuga plays the run just fine, enough that they gave him a healthy raise over the two-year, $6.5 million deal they gave him in 2013. They love his down-hill presence on early downs and he says don't worry.
"The physicality part is not going to go anywhere. I'm going to always have that. It's going to be there regardless of how many pounds I lose. I'm content with where I'm at physically, but I have to make sure my weight follows through."
While Maualuga begins his annual off-season regimen at Ignition's gym in Mason, Ohio looking for that speed with workout partner and Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko on Monday, the Bengals are going to be staring at Free Agent Eve. The club can begin informal talks with agents Saturday, but can't make formal offers or sign deals until Tuesday.
Even with Maualuga in the fold and starting SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur expected to get a second-round tender to keep him around, they are still seeking some veteran depth since they won't be able to gauge progress of WILL backer Vontaze Burfict's micro fracture knee surgery for a couple of months. The word is that the club plans to visit next week with former Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, quite familiar with the Greater Cincinnati terrain as a product of Centerville, Oho.
But that doesn't necessarily mean a quick deal. The Bengals need a couple of sanely priced players for depth at defensive end and tight end, as well as linebacker, and they're going to keep an eye on the market, as well as other players.
In Maualuga they've retained not only a career-long starter, but a player who has grown up in this scheme and who last year played a big role in captaining the defense, along with WILL backer Vincent Rey, in the absence of the Pro Bowler Burfict.
With 11-year-veteran Robert Geathers recently released, Maualugua's seniority on defense is slowly ticking upward. Only Peko (139) and cornerback Leon Hall (107) have more games in the Bengals defense than Maualuga's 85.
"For sure," Maualuga said of his role, "but I know it's not all on my shoulders. We've got a lot of guys that have done the job in the past. I'm going to have to step up and make sure things get done the way they're supposed to."
Maualuga still takes the slings and arrows of social media too much to heart. But he's come a long way from the uncertain, insecure kid that showed up from USC in 2009. If being mentioned in the same breath as Peko and Hall and Andrew Whitworth when it comes to team leadership is a necessity now as the seasons pile up, so be it.
"In due time, I think everyone falls into place. My role will come into play as things are settled," Maualuga said. "For now, I'll be respectful to the role I have and go from there."
That means going to the gym on Monday with Peko to start their sixth year together getting ready for the season under the eye of Ignition director Clif Marshall, a product of Bengals strength coach Chip Morton's program.
He'll be showing up with his big brother. No. 94," Marshall said of Peko. "These guys really work it. With Rey, he just shows up every day with that blue collar mentality. He never backs away from a workout. The way he plays on Sunday is how he trains. He's workman-like. I was glad to hear the news (of the contract) because we want a blue-collar atmosphere around here and guys like Rey and Peko fill the place with it."
Maualuga simply smiled when asked if he's trying shed pounds so he can get more snaps. He usually comes off the field on passing downs. But, like he told the media Friday, "The best of me has yet to come."
Marshall agrees with him. He doesn't think he'll sacrifice his power for speed.
"For Rey, I think toughness is a mindset. I think he probably feels like he's still going to be physical at 245 and he's going to try and be more explosive, faster," Marshall said.
At some point this spring, Marshall also expects to see three-year Avayah Maualuga at Ignition. That's happened a few times where Maualuga doesn't like to be away from his daughter, so he takes her to the workout. She's been there enough that Marshall knows to make sure the cartoon "Bubble Guppies," is on the screen in the players' lounge.
It looked like Avayah had a strong hand in Maualuga deciding to stay home. After all, she lives here.
"I want to thank my daughter for making this decision much easier to make," Maualuga told the media. "She's only three and I figured, 'Hey, Daddy's coming back to Cincinnati.' She just gave me a smile and a hug. I doubt she knew what was going on. It felt awesome to be loved."
Which is why he also thanked Bengals president Mike Brown, executive vice president Katie Blackburn, vice president Troy Blackburn, and the coaches for the new deal and promised them he wouldn't let them down.
"I wanted to get something done before free agency. I've had a great time in Cincinnati," Maualuga said. "Few people can say they played this long for the same club that drafted them."
Maualuga made the decision to take the deal two days ago when he was visiting his California home with Avayah and the travel hit him. Not only for potentially playing in another city, but just the logistics of free agency, and how much the club has invested in him despite some off-field scrapes.
"Just thinking about all the traveling and all the things you've got to do to try and persuade the coaches to sign me and try to get the best deal possible," he said. "We said there's no need for all that. These guys had faith in me from day one and they've given me chances knowing I've done wrong at times here in the city. They still wanted to sign me back. I promised them I won't let them down."
As for his "friends," on social media that have hounded him ever since he showed up here, Maualuga sounded like a seven-year veteran.
"I just hope that I won some of them back. At the same time there is always going to be people that doubt," Maualuga said. "I have said it many times, if you can come here and take my job, please do. If you can't, be quiet. Stand behind your computer, stand behind your phone and say whatever you want to say because I am not going anywhere."
Maualuga's equivalent on the other side of the ball is tight end Jermaine Gresham, also a frequent target of the 140-character bashers. Both are passionate and sensitive and yet while Maualuga seems to have either ignored it or thrived on it while improving his play, Gresham hasn't been able to find that consistency amid the criticism.
"I know my strengths. I know my positives and my weaknesses," Maualuga said. "That's what the offseason is for, to work on things you need help on working on. Like I said, there are going to be people out there who question my abilities and question my age. Am I this? Am I that? Should I be here? The only people I need to impress are the guys upstairs. They want me back. The Browns, the Blackburns want me back. I'm just happy to be here and happy to go to work."