When outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict pursued a career in the National Football League in 2012, there were not too many people who were ready to dispute his play making ability. In 2010, Burfict was named as the Pac-12 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, and he became the first player at Arizona State to be named a first-team All-American since Terrell Suggs in 2002. But that resume could not prevent Burfict from going undrafted by the NFL in 2012.
When Burfict’s junior season at Arizona State began in 2011, some scouts had him pegged as a potential top-five pick, but several off-the-field issues which included a positive test for marijuana at the National Football League’s Scouting Combine as well as poor interviews with teams turned many people off. Burfict went undrafted, but he would soon find a home with the Cincinnati Bengals who were willing to take a chance on him.
The Bengals were the worst possible team that Burfict could have agreed to play for due to their recent checkered history. Since the mid-2000’s, the Bengals organization have seen some of their players in the news for the wrong reasons due to their numerous run-ins with law enforcement. The situation had gotten so bad that at one point National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell personally visited the entire team to speak to them. Bringing in Burfict has not changed the image for the Bengals as the player who was dubbed by some scouts as a loose cannon is consistently making the teams that passed on him look very smart.
In 2013, Burfict made the first and only Pro Bowl appearance of his career. But since Burfict came to the National Football League, he has become the league’s poster boy for on-the-field misconduct. Since 2012, Burfict has been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, or unnecessary roughness a combined 19 times. Burfict has been fined by the NFL on several occasions with his fines total now close to the $1 million mark. One of Burfict’s most notable incidents occurred during the AFC Wild Card Game in January 2016 when he was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for the cheap shot that he delivered on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. The foul occurred at the Cincinnati 47-yard line, and that along with an unsportsmanlike conduct foul by Bengals cornerback Adam “PacMan” Jones put the Steelers in position to kick the game-winning field goal as Cincy was denied an opportunity to win their first playoff game since January 1991.
Burfict began this season in street clothes as he was suspended by the National Football League for the first three games due to a hit that he delivered on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during the preseason. The time off didn’t see Burfict change his ways as in his first game back he was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty versus the Cleveland Browns. In Week 10, Burfict was ejected from the Bengals game versus the Tennessee Titans after making contact with an official. Burfict was attempting to state his case with the official after he was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and even though that he had a reason to gripe, he can’t make contact with the official. Burfict didn’t help his case as upon his exit from the field in Nashville, he made gestures towards the crowd which included the Johnny Manziel “money” symbol.
But what is equally as disturbing as Burfict’s antics on the field is that the Bengals are still giving him a paycheck. On two separate occasions the Bengals have given Burfict contract extensions with the most recent instance coming this past September where he was given a three-year extension for $38.68 million. And by the Bengals giving Burfict an extension show that this organization is not committed to winning.
Former Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs was adamant about being unable to win with guys who lacked character. And it is hard to argue with Gibbs as he’s the only head coach in National Football League history to win three Super Bowl Championships with three different starting quarterbacks. And this is something that the Bengals have not learned as their organization has become a refuge for undisciplined players such as Burfict.
The perfect time for the Bengals to have cut ties with Burfict was following the playoff loss to the Steelers. The Bengals had the game won, but Burfict went out of his way to see that this would not be the case as issues with a player’s character always seem to rise to the surface at the most inopportune time.
Instead the Bengals have given Burfict a platform to exude his disruptive behavior, while they’ve also let him know that his antics are accepted. Burfict’s continuous missteps also show that there is not any accountability within the Bengals organization as his actions as well as the consistent losing along with the lack of playoff victories illustrates that this franchise is not committed to winning.
With a record of 4-6, the Bengals still find themselves in the mix for one of the wild card spots in the AFC as they along with five other teams are just one game behind for the final postseason berth in the conference. But just like Burfict’s antics showed up in the playoffs versus the Steelers, and led to him being suspended for the first three games of this season, as well as being disqualified against the Titans, he will cost the Bengals again. And that date and time will be sooner rather than later as a leopard never changes its spots, or in this case, a Bengal never changes his stripes.