There is no doubt that, when he is on the field, Vontaze Burfict is a difference-maker for this defense. He is the heart and soul of that side of the ball, and you can tell when he is and isn’t out there.
Unfortunately, he has had trouble staying on the field the past four seasons.
Burfict played in every game his first two years in the NFL, but he started to deal with some issues in the 2014 season. He missed two games with a concussion that season before his year ended on Injured Reserve after having to get surgery on his knee. He only appeared in five games.
He missed the first six game of the 2015 season recovering from that same knee injury. Burfict returned, and helped lead one of the best Bengals defenses of the Paul Guenther era.
However, his short fuse and lack of composure stained the whole season. After he seemingly sealed the Bengals playoff win in 2015 against the Steelers he committed an unnecessary roughness penalty that combined with an Adam Jones penalty handed the Steelers the victory.
To make matters worse, Burfict was suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season for the hit that knocked Antonio Brown out of the playoffs.
After serving his three-game suspension in 2016 Burfict missed an additional two games with a concussion, which starts a concerning trend. He finished the season playing only 11 games as the Bengals missed the postseason.
Then there was this season where Burfict was coming into the Regular Season in the best shape of his life. Only to be suspended for a preseason hit. To be fair to Burfict there were plenty of people who questioned the suspension that was originally five games, but after Burfict appealed it was reduced to only three games.
This is the hit by Vontaze Burfict on Chiefs FB Anthony Sherman that earned Burfict a reported 5-game suspension. He is appealing pic.twitter.com/X4l2d3Bfr8— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 28, 2017
By all accounts this seemed to be a legal hit even by new rule’s standard of only being able to hit the receiver in his chest, but the league took into account his history and “intent” when making the suspension.
Burfict also ended the season dealing with another concussion. This time at the hands of a dirty hit by JuJu Smith-Schuster. He then suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of the final game of the season. He finished the year only playing in 10 games.
Now, I’m not here to question Burfict’s toughness. If you watch the Bengals you can usually see him run back onto the field shortly after suffering an injury. Still this is a trend that doesn’t usually get better with age.
You will often hear fans complain about how often Tyler Eifert misses games, but Burfict isn’t doing much better. He has only played in 12 more games than Eifert during those same four seasons.
The reason for presenting this information isn’t to say the Bengals should move on from Burfict. Any ideas of the Bengals parting ways with the linebacker don’t make sense anymore.
Not to mention whatever the Bengals would get in a trade would be taking pennies for a dollar. Given how close the linebacker is to a serious suspension, most teams likely would offer very little to take on the troubled linebacker.
The Bengals need Burfict to find a way to stay out of trouble with the league, and to also find a way to stay healthy, which is obviously easier said than done. If the Bengals want to turn a corner next season, Burfict needs to be on the field.