The Cincinnati Bengals may be a few days away from losing wide receiver Andrew Hawkins to a division rival, but the team made sure Vinny Rey doesn’t follow him out the door by signing the linebacker to a two-year contract Saturday morning.
Rey and Hawkins, along with wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, entered Tuesday’s opening of free agency as restricted free agents, which means they are able to test their worth on the open market. But the Bengals have the right to match any offer.
Hawkins received a four-year contract from the Cleveland Browns worth a reported $12.2 million, with $5.3 million guaranteed. It doesn’t appear the Bengals are willing to match that, although they have until Tuesday to decide.
The team didn’t want to take a chance that the same would happen to Rey, who had a breakout season in 2013 with career highs in tackles (54), sacks (four), passes defended (four), forced fumbles (one) and interceptions (two). He returned one of his two interceptins for his first career touchdown against Minnesota on Dec. 22.
The 6-foot, 250-pound Rey, who was undrafted out of Duke in 2010, also was third on the team with 11 tackles on special teams. He made the roster as a rookie because of his special teams play, and he has improved every year to work his way into the rotation at linebacker.
“Vinny is a tough guy and a pleasure to coach, and it’s great to have him back in the fold,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “He really helped us in winning the division title last year.”
Rey, who has played in all 16 regular-season games and the three playoff games the last three years, made three starts in 2013 while middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was out with a knee injujry.
He had his best game of the year in the second of those three starts at Baltimore on Nov. 10, registering a career-high 13 tackles with a career-high three sacks and his first career interception.
A few days after that game, Rey joked that he had done more interviews that week than during his whole career.
When a reporter asked him if he had changed, Rey admitted he had.
“I’m different,” he said at the time. “Every time I come out to practice, I’m always getting better. I feel like I see things better, my eyes are better. I’m more confident. And just like what the other players on the defense tell me, it’s not about the last play, it’s about the next play. You can’t move forward looking backward. I think I’m a different guy.”
Rey is the third player the Bengals have re-signed this offeseason, joining wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate and offensive lineman Mike Pollak. They also claimed former linebacker Dontay Moch off waivers from Arizona.
The only other player moves have been to release linebacker James Harrison and center Kyle Cook. Harrison’s departure at SAM backer should create an opportunity for even more playing time for Rey.
On Friday the team re-signed Lewis to a one-year contract extension that runs through 2015.