The Cincinnati Bengals cut ties with controversial linebacker Vontaze Burfict on Monday after seven seasons.
Less than an hour after the Bengals officially announced oft-injured Eifert had re-signed on a one-year deal, attention shifted to Burfict as news broke that the team had released him. The team confirmed the news hours later.
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“As we continue to build our roster for the 2019 season, we felt it best to give both the team and Vontaze a fresh start,” said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor in a rlelease. “Vontaze has been a good player here — the team appreciates that, and I know a lot of fans appreciate that — but our focus is on the future. Our goal is to build a successful team for the upcoming season, and we felt that making this change now was best for everyone.”
The Bengals tried shopping Burfict around but could not work out a trade, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini.
It became clear last season the Bengals could no longer rely on Burfict to remain healthy and be effective on the field. Taylor came in preaching about culture and character, and Burfict’s antics in the past didn’t seem to mesh with that message. His recent concussion history didn’t help either, as he ended an already short 2018 campaign with a pair of head injuries.
“I think with any position you always want to make sure guys are healthy,” Taylor said at the NFL Combine when asked whether he had concerns about Burfict’s concussion history. “Vontaze is a really smart player, and I’ve always from afar respected his game and how smart he was and how he played that position, but no different, you always want to make sure guys are healthy going forward.”
Once considered a stalwart in the middle of the Bengals defense, Burfict seemed to lose favor even with Marvin Lewis last year. Lewis had long defended Burfict, but at least once in 2018 when asked about his status coming back from injury, Lewis said it was “irrelevant,” and that seemed to match up with how many felt about his performance on the field.
Burfict had begun the season on a four-game suspension (the third straight year he began the season on suspension) for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy, and when he arrived at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 5, he appeared out of shape and not ready. The team reported he was nursing a hip injury. When Burfict did return to the field, he missed several tackles and ultimately ended his season after just seven games because of back-to-back concussions, which were the sixth and seventh of his career.
Injuries aside, his aggressive play often crossed the line and cost unnecessary personal foul penalties, including one especially costly one at the end of the 2015 playoff loss to Pittsburgh that helped the Steelers into field goal position to win the game. Burfict was fined and/or suspended by the NFL 14 times during his time with the Bengals, including fines in 2018 for hits on the Steelers’ Antonio Brown and James Conner and the Broncos’ Andy Janovich. He lost a total of $4.2 million in fines and salary for suspensions, which totaled 10 games.
The 28-year-old last played a full season in 2013 when he recorded 177 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. He came to the Bengals as an undrafted college free agent in 2012 out of Arizona State. Cutting Burfict saves the Bengals $5.69 million in salary cap space, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are rewarding Eifert for his proven value when healthy.
Eifert originally was the Bengals’ first-round draft pick in 2013 but has been limited by a series of unfortunate injuries over his six years with the Bengals. Last season in his return from neck and back injuries, he made a big impact early on while catching 15 passes for 179 yards and one touchdown before suffering a broken right ankle in Game 4 at Atlanta and missing the rest of the year.