At least under Marvin Lewis’ leadership, Cincinnati may be the one of the few NFL location where concussions aren’t looked at with the severity that they should be.
But you don’t have to be a doctor to know Vontaze Burfict’s career could be hanging in the balance at the moment.
This past Sunday against the Browns, Burfict suffered what was his second concussion of the 2018 season and in the month of December. Officially, it is his seventh diagnosed and documented concussion since his second career season in 2013, but who knows if that number isn’t considerably higher?
Burfict has always played with a sense of recklessness that — more times than not — put his body in harm’s way. Most of the time, it’s what made him the spark that kicked the Bengals’ defense into high gear.
Other times, it’s what lead him to exiting the field for extended periods of time; whether it was injury or suspension. That style of play is not long for this day-and-age of football, as not only the rules are cracking down on head-first tackling, but the collisions themselves are getting more and more impactful when they occur.
The linebacker’s latest head trauma earlier this week lead to another premature exit from the field that also included some slight drama with one of the team’s athletic trainers. Burfict was visibly upset with leaving the game for what he most likely knew was another concussion and took out frustration on the trainer, which Lewis commented on after the game.
“He just has to go through the protocol. Sometimes guys don’t want to hear that,” Lewis responded when asked about the incident. “They say they’re fine, but they still have to go through the protocol. They settle down, and then they go do it.”
It’s true that concussions can provoke mood swings and errant behavior, especially right after it happens. Burfict has to be tired of being pulled out of games for head injuries that he can’t seem to avoid, but he should also know the standard he’s put up against is considerably higher than the rest of the league because of the reputation he’s earned as a player.
The good that Burfict can and used to provide on the field is diminishing with every concussion he continues to suffer. Upon returning from his four-game suspension to begin the season, Burfict never looked like the linebacker he was before he signed his latest extension back in 2017.
As the season drained on, he appeared lost and ineffective on more snaps than not. It’s not an exaggeration to say he’s been one of the worst starting linebackers in the league this year, and the recent concussions he suffered certainly won’t help him get back to where he once was.
Looking towards the future, the Bengals’ linebacking corps is once again a major weakness, and there’s even more uncertainty within it than in year’s past. Both Preston Brown and Vincent Rey are free agents and while Nick Vigil and Jordan Evans have given them a healthy amount of snaps, they’re far from reliable assets.
Burfict was the one player in this group that was capable of playing at a high level, but his availability was a concern before his concussions peaked over half-a-dozen in (known) total.
When looking at his minimal dead money compared to his decent-sized cap hit for 2019, the question regarding Burfict’s future must be addressed this offseason; because this situation is likely going to get worse.