One of the biggest storylines surrounding the Bengals this offseason will be the status of star linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Now entering his fifth NFL season in 2016, Burfict is set to open the 2016 season with a three-game suspension handed down to him by the NFL for repeated violations of safety-related playing rules. Burfict is in the process of appealing that ruling, and while he'll probably end up serving some form of suspension, it's possible he can get it knocked down by a game or two.
That is, if he can prove to the league and commissioner Roger Goodell that he's genuinely committed to changing the way he plays the game and cleaning up his antics. That's what he'll be doing within the next week as he meets with Goodell, according to ESPN.
According to ESPN, a source told them on Thursday that Burfict will meet with Goodell within a week to discuss his suspension.
Now that the 2015 NFL season is over, Goodell has more free time on his schedule to meet with Burfict and discuss his suspension. It was reported by ESPN a few weeks ago that Burfict had a preliminary hearing with Goodell and that Marvin Lewis even attended that meeting.
A combination of Burfict's actions during the 2015 season led to the NFL suspending him following the Wild Card game. His most recent violation came with 22 seconds remaining in that playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he was penalized for using his shoulder to make contact to the head and neck area of a defenseless receiver, Antonio Brown. Burfict was also fined $50,000 for a hit on Ravens tight end Maxx Williams in Week 17 and was fined for three incidents in the Week 14 Bengals vs Steelers matchup, totaling about $70,000 in fines for that one game.
Burfict's three game suspension was handed down by NFL Vice President of Football Operations Merton Hanks, who ruled Burfict’s actions have placed his opponent at an unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided. Appeals are heard and decided by either former NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks or former NFL receiver James Thrash.
Whatever happens, Burfict's suspension will take effect at the time of the final roster reduction prior to Week 1 of the 2016 regular season. That will free up a roster spot for a guy who might not have made the team to take his place for however long Burfict is suspended.
My guess if Burfict manages to get his suspension knocked down by a game since a three-game suspension is unprecedented for these types of actions. As much as the NFL has been hammering down on safety in recent years, suspending a player for three games when he's previously never been suspended just isn't fair.