The Cincinnati Bengals have parted ways with one of the most polarizing players in franchise history.
The team released linebacker Vontaze Burfict on Monday after seven seasons comprised of controversial hits, millions of dollars lost to suspensions and fines, multiple concussions and at times, despite the distractions, terrific performances.
Cutting Burfict, the 28-year-old who signed a 3-year contraction extension last offseason worth $38.68 million and a $3.3 million signing bonus, will cost the Bengals a hit of $1.8 million in dead money. But the decision will save $5.5 million overall against the salary cap.
This was a move made on behalf of more than financial motivation.
Long gone were Burfict’s best days in the middle of the Bengals defense. His Pro Bowl honor in 2013 came during one of three seasons he piled up at least 100 total tackles. But that was the last time Burfict appeared in more than 11 games in a season, and he last totaled more than 74 stops in 2016.
As production stalled, Burfict’s list of fines, suspensions and injuries grew longer.
The constant pivots between good, bad and ugly with Burfict peaked three seasons ago during the Bengals stunning 18-16 playoff loss to the Steelers.
Burfict was involved in numerous game-changing moments. He sacked and briefly knocked Ben Roethlisberger out of the game, sparking a second-half comeback. Late in the fourth quarter, Burfict’s diving interception and run with teammates off the field toward the locker room, appeared to secure Cincinnati’s first playoff victory in 25 years.
But Burfict’s signature moment came later. His hit on Steelers wideout Antonio Brown was flagged for a personal foul and helped set Pittsburgh up for the game-winning field goal.
Everybody said the Bengals beat the Bengals that night. Burfict was in the middle of all of it.
His issues with contact deemed unnecessary by the league continued through his final season with the Bengals.
He was fined twice last season totaling more than $165,000 for unnecessarily rough hits in games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. Those occurred after Burfict began the season with a four-game suspension, costing him $1.84 million in game checks and bonus forfeitures, for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2017.
He was sidelined during the Broncos game in Week 12 with a concussion and returned for just two more tackles the remainder of the season. It was at least the sixth concussion of Burfict’s career and the third consecutive season he missed substantial time in December due to a concussion.
The Bengals cut Burfict following the exits of a few of his chief supporters. Marvin Lewis and the Bengals parted ways following last season, removing the head coach who took a chance on Burfict as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State in 2012.
Lewis and Burfict appeared to have a close relationship.
Upon his return from suspension last season, Burfict found Lewis at Paul Brown Stadium, grabbed from behind and raised him up off his feet.
“I guess it’s time to wrestle with the bear again,” said Lewis with a smile at the time.
The good times didn’t last long.
Burfict struggled in a new system playing for the first time in his career without former Bengals defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Paul Guenther, who left for Oakland.
Pro Football Focus charted Burfict with just 20 made tackles and 12 assisted. His 12 missed tackles in just seven games were the most recorded in all but one of his previous seasons.
The production was part of a trend that couldn’t be avoided by recently hired coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
Year: Burfict total tackles // missed tackles
• 2012: 114 // 7
• 2013: 156 // 9
• 2014: 27 // 5
• 2015: 72 // 7
• 2016: 99 // 13
• 2017: 69 // 8
• 2018: 32 // 12
Here’s the list of Burfict’s fines and suspensions. All the amounts listed below are the original fine numbers given prior to any potential appeals.
• Week 3, 2013: $10K — striking Packers’ Ryan Taylor in the groin
• Week 3, 2013: $21K — hit on defenseless player, Packers’ James Jones
• Week 8, 2013: $21K — spearing New York Jets’ WR Stephen Hill
• Week 6, 2014: $25K — ankle twisting Cam Newton and Greg Olsen
• Week 13, 2015: $69.4K — three separate unsportsmanlike incidents vs. Steelers
• Week 17, 2015: $50K — hit to defenseless tight end Maxx Williams away from play
• Wildcard Playoffs, 2016: $534K – three-game suspension — multiple violations of player-safety rules including hit on Antonio Brown.
• Week 6, 2016: $75K – stomping on leg of LeGarrette Blount.
• Preseason Week 2, 2017: $1.84 million – three-game suspension – multiple violations of player-safety rules including hit on Anthony Sherman.
• Week 7, 2017: $12.1K – unsportsmanlike conduct for kicking at Roosevelt Nix.
• December, 2017: $1.839M – four-game suspension, violation of NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Money lost includes bonus forfeitures and game checks.
• Week 6, 2018: $112,000 – multiple unnecessary roughness incidents, including hits against Antonio Brown and James Conner.
• Week 13, 2018: $53,482 – lowering his head on a hit against Broncos fullback Andy Janovich.