CINCINNATI -- With news late Wednesday that Vontaze Burfict had reportedly agreed to a multiyear contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals, the organization sent a message it was serious about locking down its stars, and doing what was necessary to keep in place the structure that has made it successful these past three years.
Quarterback Andy Dalton's extension, signed Aug. 4, was the first sign of that this year. Dalton's slated to be behind center for the Bengals through 2020. Two other key defenders, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will be in stripes through 2018 after inking their blockbuster extensions last summer.
On the waiting list of signings, Burfict was always next, with receiver A.J. Green waiting in the wings. While Green might prefer to wait until after this season to get an extension, especially because he's already set to make $10 million next year with his fifth-year option exercised, he could be in position after Burfict's deal and pending cuts to work something out before this season officially begins.
Burfict's deal hasn't been formally announced by the Bengals, although it should be made official sometime Thursday morning. Once that happens, we should learn a few more details. For now, there are conflicting reports on the length of the extension. ESPN's Adam Caplan and Adam Schefter broke news of the signing, saying it was a four-year, $20 million extension. Schefter reported that he'll make $7.6 million this season. Other reports indicate it may be a three-year extension.
Presumably Burfict would have signed Wednesday had he been around. But he felt ill early in the day and was sent home before the afternoon practice.
Regardless of the specifics, we do know this: It was smart for the Bengals to lock up Burfict now and it was smart for him to get paid right now.
It was arguably more important for the Bengals to lock down their Pro Bowl second-year linebacker for what he provides off the field as opposed to what he has done on it. True, he's been a relative terror in between the white lines, blasting any offensive player who comes into his area of the field. He's the Bengals' enforcer, and in the two years he's been on the job, the defense's reputation has gone from good to nasty.
For years, Mike Zimmer's name was the one most associated with Cincinnati's defensive success. But now that the former defensive coordinator has left, it's Burfict. His style of play set the tone for a defense that was ranked third last year. It's the same tone new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants to see all season when he puts 11 of what he calls "smart bullies" on the field.
A smart bully -- that's exactly what Burfict is.
Though Burfict may be a trash-talking bully on the field, he is intelligent off of it. Guenther has long considered him his right-hand man, an on-field extension of his own mind. Guenther has often said he hasn't been around a player who can break down game film like Burfict can. When the coach was calling players up to the front of meeting rooms to diagram defenses earlier this preseason, his prized pupil was used the most regularly. Burfict, according to Guenther, knows his scheme better than anyone else around the team.
Guenther lauds the professorial side of Burfict. Combine that value with the talents of Atkins and Dunlap, and it made sense for the Bengals to lock Burfict down when they did.