Burfict’s Suspension Will Make Him A Better Player

Gone are the golden days of rough and tough football. The NFL is evolving into another entity. Rodger Goodell made that point loud and clear on Thursday. Vontaze Burfict’s three-game suspension was upheld by appeals officer Derrick Brooks. Though Burfict got a chance to plead his case, he’ll still be missing the first three games of the 2016 season. The outcome could make a great talent even better.

According to ESPN, Burfict met with NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell to discuss his future in the league. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was also present at the summit. Goodell and the league have had similar meetings with James Harrison and Ndamukong Suh. Neither of those players have had another face-to-face. The meeting was in hopes of reducing the length of the suspension.

The ban was the result of repeat violations of the NFL’s safety-related playing rules, including a hit to the head of Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. The blow occurred during the January 9 Wild Card Round playoff that yielded fines for other players also.

Burfict's Suspension [Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]Burfict was also fined $50,000 for a hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams in Week 17. In Week 8, Burfict drew more attention after celebrating what turned out to be a season-ending hit on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.

The Bell tackle ignited chippy play in the two other meetings between the Bengals and Steelers last season. It was after the Week 14 meeting in Cincinnati that Burfict was fined for three incidents for a total amount that was just shy of $70,000.

The ban will cost Burfict $502,941 of his 2016 base salary, and he will have forfeited $647,395 since just before the 2014 season, when he signed a four-year, $20 million contract extension.

Per Pro Football Reference, Burfict has been flagged 15 times for personal foul penalties in the regular season, since entering the league in 2012.

Burfict is a throwback. He’s the prototypical wild and maniacal linebacker that roamed ancient gridirons. But, the NFL is evolving. With rules being changed for the offense, the margin of error has gotten smaller. What used to be an acceptable form of tackling has been reduced to judgment calls. Bang-bang plays are now looked upon as the defensive player targeting.

Despite the penalties, Burfict was still one of the Bengals’ top defensive players. In just 1o games, after returning from surgery, Burfict had 74 tackles, one sack and two interceptions. Those numbers, averaged over the entire season, would give him 118 tackles, two sacks and three INTs. He would have led the defense in tackles.

What Rodger Goodell and the NFL are telling Burfict is simple; Either he plays within the parameters of the new system, or he’s done. Injuries are the main concern of the league. The players are paid huge amounts of cash and the owners want to see those investments on the field.

Burfict's Suspension [Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]Burfict is a talented and smart player. That evidence has been documented by his 2013 Pro Bowl appearance. That season he led the NFL with 171 tackles. He was the only Bengals defensive player selected that year. Burfict was also the first Bengals linebacker since Jim LeClair in 1976.

There’s no doubt that Vontaze Burfict is a beastly player. But if he wants to remain a cog in the NFL, he has to start playing within the scope of his talent.

The NFL is not the same as it was a few years ago. Hard hits and grind it out defense was the main drawing card for the game. Today, the rules are stiffening. That doesn’t mean stop playing with heart. But, it does mean defenders have to think before leveling another player.

The mantra used to be “no thinking.” Today’s NFL has used Burfict to make that a thing of the past.

[Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images]