Earlier in the week, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told reporters that he did not intend to player linebacker Vontaze Burfict during the preseason. Burfict, who will also not play in the team’s first three regular season games either due to suspension, was put on the Non-Football Injury list to begin training camp on Thursday.
The fifth-year linebacker has been limited to only 15 games over the course of the past two seasons, including 10 in 2015, stemming from a knee injury that required microfracture surgery to repair. The general speculation is that his stint on the NFI list is due to that, and is not believed to be serious.
On Tuesday, Lewis told reporters that he “kept [Burfict] on the sideline as often as I could during the offseason”, according to Pro Football Talk. “I did everything I could during this offseason and I’m going to do the same thing this training camp. There’s no reason for us to risk him getting hurt”.
The former undrafted free agent has never exactly represented himself as a player who is content to sit on the sidelines and out of the action. He has repeatedly been under scrutiny, in fact, for being a bit too involved in the action, which is precisely why he is going to serve a three-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
“It’s hard because he’s so competitive”, Lewis said, that “we have to continue to hold him back. One day he gets it the next day he wants to fight me on it. That’s it”. It seems rather easy to believe that Burfict might fight Lewis over keeping him on the sideline. And it also seems a bit convenient that Lewis wants to keep Burfict away from his other players, since people tend to get hurt in his vicinity.
The NFI list is somewhat similar to the PUP list. It goes without saying that players on either list cannot participate in practice until they are activated from it, though players on the former do not have the opportunity to begin the regular season on the Reserve PUP list.
Burfict recorded 74 tackles in 10 games last season, in addition to one sack, two interceptions, and five passes defensed. He had six tackles, a sack, an interception, a force fumble, and a pass defensed against the Steelers in the playoffs, and combined for 16 tackles against Pittsburgh in the two regular season games.
His best season came in 2013, when he started all 16 games, recording 171 tackles, three sacks, a force fumble, an interception, and six passes defensed. He was named to the Pro Bowl that year, but injuries have since limited his ability to stay on the field.
The Steelers play the Bengals in the second week of the season, so that is at least one game that Burfict will miss in the series. Based on recent history, however, he may well miss more than three games this year due to injuries, and starting on the NFI list is not a great sign.