Vontaze Burfict has been one of the top linebackers in the NFL almost since the moment he first joined the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Bengals have had Burfict on a pretty cheap deal since he joined the league and he has been underpaid considering his level of play. His current contract, is four years, $19,004,000, with $6,904,000 guaranteed. He’s currently on the final year of the deal and the Bengals should look to extend him before the 2017 season starts. At this point, he will probably be looking to get paid like one of the best linebackers in the NFL and the Bengals should pay him as such.
That’s especially true considering how much of a steal the team has gotten with Burfict’s current deal. 11 Bengals players are currently set to have a higher cap hit than Burfict in 2017 and 26 linebackers (nine4-3 OLBs) are currently getting paid more than the Bengals’ top linebacker. Do you believe 26 linebackers are better than Burfict? No? That’s what we thought.
Here’s a look at some of the highest paid OLBs, courtesy of Spotrac:
And more specifically, here’s a look at the highest paid 4-3 OLBs, courtesy of Over the Cap:
Here’s a look at three of the highest paid linebackers in the NFL to give you an idea of what Burfict may be paid on his next deal.
3) Navorro Bowman current contract: 4 years, $42 million, with $22 million guaranteed
Bowman has had a very interesting career up to this point. He is like Burfict in that his athletic limitations limit how effective he is in coverage. However, he has still been one of the top linebackers in the NFL when he is on-the-field. He has also had a bad injury history including an ACL tear in recent years. Bowman is probably the closest comparison to Burfict in the NFL. Bowman signed his contract extension during the 2016 offseason, which averages $10,500,000 per year and runs through 2022, per Spotrac. The 49ers do have an opt-out built into the deal for the 2020 offseason, which would leave them with just $2.2 million in dead cap, if utilized. The Bengals may want to carefully structure a Burfict extension due to his injury and suspension/fine history. It wouldn’t be surprising for there to be an opt out clause or other protection for the Bengals built into Burfict’s contract in the event he runs into further issues.
2) Bobby Wagner current contract: 4 years, $43 million, with $22 million guaranteed
Bobby Wagner is one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL and is paid like one. Even if he isn’t known by most average NFL fans, he is a huge factor on the Seattle Seahawks and deserves the contract he’s signed to. He is a big factor against both the run and the pass and has been a key cog in the Seahawks defense since joining the team. He isn’t as comparable to Burfict as Bowman as he’s never had an issue missing games, but Burfict is the better player overall. Burfict comes with a lot more risk than Wagner with his suspensions and injuries. Wagner signed his four year, $43,000,000 contract with the Seahawks during the 2015 offseason. It includes an $8,000,000 signing bonus, $21,977,427 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $10,750,000. In 2017, Wagner will earn a base salary of $4,000,000 and a roster bonus of $1,000,000, while carrying a cap hit of $7,600,000 and a dead cap value of $11,800,000, per Spotrac. The Seahawks also have an opt-out clause in 2018, though the dead cap hit would be steeper for them at $5.2 million.
1) Luke Kuechly current contract: 5 years, $61.8 million, with $34.3 million guaranteed
Kuechly is a generational talent at linebacker and has been the consensus top linebacker in the NFL ever since Patrick Willis retired. Kuechly may even have been the top linebacker in the NFL before Willis retired. Kuechly won Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. The way a comparison can be made between Kuechly and Burfict is that Kuechly has had some scary issues with concussions, which could impact his long term availability. Similarly, Burfict’s concussions and microfracture surgery could play into his future. However, Kuechly is the only linebacker I would take over Burfict without a question. Luke Kuechly signed a five year, $61,801,565 contract with the Panthers in 2015. The deal includes a $19,000,000 signing bonus, $34,363,324 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $12,360,313. In 2017, Kuechly will earn a base salary of $7,363,324 and a incentive bonus of $400,000, while carrying a cap hit of $12,763,324 and a dead cap value of $23,563,324, per Spotrac.
What’s important to note is that none of these contracts were signed this year, and the salary cap rises each year. As such, players make more money when signing new deals in each passing season.
Another good comparison would be Browns outside linebacker Jamie Collins, because he signed his deal in January 2017. It was a four-year, $50 million contract with $26.4 million in guarantees, per Over the Cap. From 2018 through 2020 there are $400,000 per year in per game roster bonuses, another strategy the Bengals may want to utilize in protecting themselves when structuring Burfict’s deal. Collins’ deal is a good indicator of what Burfict’s next contract will look like, though, the Bengals typically do well at limiting guaranteed money and will try to go lower than what Collins received.
Burfict next contract: 5 years, $50 million, with $15 million guaranteed
Burfict is one of the top linebackers in the NFL and with this potential contract he is finally getting paid like one. The deal pays him less per year on average than the above-mentioned guys, but you need to take into account his injury and suspension history. The Bengals would like to factor in relatively limited guarantees, as that is the team’s typical goal when signing top players to new long-term contracts. The team may also try to frontload the contract, considering other top players’ contracts will be running out soon, like Carlos Dunlap.
What do you think would be a fair next contract for Vontaze Burfict from both the Bengals’ perspective as well as the player’s?