News broke recently that Vontaze Burfict was hit with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s Performance-Enhancing Drug policy. The suspension is tied to medicine Burfict claims he was prescribed following his concussion suffered from JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hit in the Bengals’ second meeting with the Steelers last season.
It doesn’t seem that Burfict’s head coach was surprised or concerned by Burfict’s suspension. Marvin Lewis spoke to Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer about what the NFL’s ruling means for the Bengals.
“We were aware of it since the end of the season so whatever happens, happens. It doesn’t hold us back,” Lewis told Owczarski. “We’re going to miss a player, likely, for a few weeks, but there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s the way it goes. You’ve got to do things within the scope of what the players are asked to do all the time, and that’s important. Just gotta do it the right way.”
Burfict is appealing the suspension but it doesn’t seem like Lewis believes he will win that appeal. Lewis also seems to be rationalizing this as dealing with it the same way the team would deal with an injured player. I’d start viewing Burfict more as a luxury than anything else. If you have him, that is wonderful, but I don’t think you can ever plan on getting a full 16 games out of him going forward. This will be the fourth straight season where the Bengals will be starting the year without Burfict on the field. The last two seasons he missed the start of the year due to suspensions and the year prior it was because of injury.
Injuries have kept Burfict off the field with some frequency and over the past four yearsm Burfict has missed 28 games due to a combination of suspension (six) and injuries (22).
The Bengals signed Preston Brown to a one-year deal so he will help at the position with and without Burfict. The Bengals also have several young linebackers already on their roster in Nick Vigil and Jordan Evans. The team will also certainly look to boost the position in the draft, too.
Burfict didn’t seem to get the benefit of the doubt from his coach regarding why he is being suspended.
“They’re responsible for what goes into their body, no matter how some things are what people use everyday,” Lewis explained to Owczarski. “But yet unless you have the right paperwork, you’re not allowed.”
Burfict’s argument centers around the idea that he didn’t gain a benefit from taking the substance, because his season was already over as he was injured and shortly after was placed on Injured/Reserve. But, it’s easy to say the league office isn’t exactly his biggest fan and PED-related suspensions rarely get overturned. Previously, Burfict has been suspended for a controversial hit that knocked out Antonio Brown from the January 2016 playoffs, and then there was a questionable suspension last preseason for a hit that may or may not have actually been legal. Prior to this, Burfict, however, has never failed any tests related to the substance abuse or PED policies for the league.
Whether or not Burfict is suspended, it has become abundantly clear the team can’t rely on him to be on the field for an entire season.