Burfict now in 'show me' phase of career

CINCINNATI -- A couple weeks ago, while walking out to one of the Cincinnati Bengals' open training-camp practices, I was asked about how Vontaze Burfict has looked coming off his Pro Bowl season.

"Like he's in Week 18," I replied.

The third-year player seemingly hadn't lost a step during the offseason. If anything, he gained one. As Burfict begins closing out the first stage of his promising career, it will be important he keep gaining and keep pushing.

As of approximately 5:15 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon, Burfict moved from the "overlook me" phase of his career to the "show me" phase.

"Show me," as in show the Bengals you're worthy of the four-year, $20 million contract extension he reportedly agreed to Wednesday afternoon. It's a deal ESPN's Adam Schefter says will pay $7.6 million this season, completely dwarfing the $570,000 Burfict had previously been scheduled to make this year.

"Show me," as in continue to show opposing running backs, receivers and tight ends why they ought to fear running into the second level of the Bengals' defense. Burfict's hard-hitting, brash and intimidating style of play is starting to get recognized across the league.

"Show me," as in show the rest of the NFL that last year's league-leading 171 tackles weren't a fluke, and the Pro Bowl appearance wasn't a one-time occurrence.

It shouldn't be hard for Burfict to do any of that. After all, he's made it this far -- to his second professional contract.

Fittingly, the Bengals are heading to the very same metropolitan area this weekend, where they'll play Arizona on Sunday, that Burfict spent three years making a name for himself. At Arizona State, he was known for his ferocious and fearless style of play that had many believing he'd be a lock to be an early-round pick. But off-field problems, purported disciplinary issues and a poor showing at the combine made him slide completely out of the 2012 draft.

In all, 256 men heard their names called in the April 2012 draft.

Burfict was not one of them.

That's when the "overlook me" phase of his career began.

Burfict was out to prove wrong every draft coach, scout, scouting director and director of player personnel who didn't think he could cut it. When Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called him immediately after the draft and told Burfict he wanted him to sign with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent, Burfict knew exactly what he had to do. He knew he had to prove he was overlooked, and show he belonged.

He's done that so far, which is why the Bengals entertained the idea of signing him to a contract extension before his rookie deal ended. When you take into consideration how valuable Burfict's aggression, tackling ability and leadership presence has been you would imagine he would be worth more than $5 million a season. That's a figure that puts him in the same salary neighborhood as linebackers Tyson Jackson, Stephen Tulloch, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Of that group, Suggs signed his contract the latest, a four-year contract renegotiation agreed upon in February.

Burfict has more tackles in the last two seasons than any of those four. Tulloch, who had 247 tackles in 2012 and 2013, is the closest to Burfict's 298. Only Luke Kuechly (320) and Paul Paul Posluszny (301) have more in that time span.

Poslusnzy currently makes $7.5 million per year. Kuechly is still on his rookie contract, earning $3.1 million. Like Burfict, he'll probably receive a significant bump to his second contract once his deal ends after next season.

Once this deal ends for Burfict at the ripe age of 28, he'll have more leverage when negotiating his third contract. Combine that with the steady increase in salary-cap money teams will soon have, and there is no telling what that deal could command.

That of course assumes that he shows the Bengals the next four seasons that he's worth what they're about to pay him. All he has to do is arrive at each training camp like he did this one.