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90-in-90 Bengals Roster Breakdown: Vontaze Burfict looking for redemption

Despite a playoff performance which was likely the best of any Bengal this millennium, Vontaze Burfict will be most remembered for a controversial hit on Antonio Brown rather than his late-game heroics — which means he’ll be looking for redemption in 2016.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

At his best, Vontaze Burfict is a top-10 linebacker. In 2013, the then second-year linebacker tallied a league-high 171 tackles, three sacks, 18 run stuffs, six pass deflections, a forced fumble and an interception. A lingering knee issue has limited the star to 15 games over the past two seasons, and an unprecedented suspension will keep him out of the Bengals’ first three 2016 contests. If the linebacker can put his past behind him and seek redemption rather than revenge, Cincinnati’s defense could take a major step forward in the upcoming season.

Player Info

Height: 6’1”
Weight: 255 pounds
Age: 25
College: Arizona State
Hometown: Corona, CA
Position: Linebacker

Contract Status

Earning just over $4.7 million per year, Burfict is listed as the 47th-highest paid linebacker (in terms of average yearly salary) in the NFL, which is a pretty good bargain for Cincinnati. Unfortunately for the linebacker, his total earnings over that stretch will be closer to $4 million, as he’s racked up nearly $700,000 in fines over the past three seasons. Regardless of the fines, Burfict’s contract has been a tremendous value to the Bengals; Burfict’s presence on the field not only energizes his teammates but also directly correlates with Cincinnati’s ability to shut down an opposing run game.

2016 Stock

Thanks to a fractured reputation, Burfict will now be under the national microscope as a player to keep an eye on, fair or unfair. He will need to play his game and ignore the egging on we all know will be coming his way in order to best help his team and improve his reputation. For all the controversy surrounding the Bengals’ Wild Card loss to the Steelers, Burfict handled the situation very well. He spoke with ESPN’s Josina Anderson in a very transparent interview about a month after the loss and did his best to stay out of the headlines all offseason (yet several of those sound bytes from the interview were used to spread anti-Burfict messages, which he probably anticipated before agreeing to the interview). The linebacker took ownership for his actions, accepted his suspension and refused to complain, despite the fact that it’s the second-longest suspension for on-field actions in NFL history and an unprecedented action. For what it’s worth, he also kept his vow to cut off his dreadlocks — which wasn’t necessarily an important action to take but could possibly be his representation of a clean slate.

None of the post-2015 season drama takes away from the excitement Burfict brings as a football player; he’s a dynamic, high-motor, high-energy playmaker who makes his teammates better and consistently creates turnovers. As Burfict seeks redemption in 2016, he’ll be a guy to keep a close eye on throughout the season.