Burfict in very rare company with deal

CINCINNATI -- There's a nugget buried in our Wednesday afternoon news story on Vontaze Burfict's now-official contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals.

You have to read near the bottom in order to find it.

While I do encourage you to do me a favor and still click the link above and read the full story, I've decided to go on and include it right here, high in this column, to help make everything else I'm about to write make sense. The nugget is in the quote below.

"It's unusual to sign a player this early in his career to a contract extension, but Vontaze is a player who merits this," Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn said. "He has proven to be an exceptional find for us and we are happy to reward him now for his accomplishments. It's good for him and good for our team."

There's your nugget: Burfict's extension is "unusual."

It's so unusual that thanks to the latest collective bargaining agreement, we may not see many other players get the type of contract extension Burfict just landed at such an early stage in their careers. In fact, because of the CBA and its limitations on the rookie contracts of draft picks, we definitely won't see a drafted player in the near future receive a more than $20-million raise after just two seasons in the league.

"It's rare," as one source familiar with Burfict's deal put it to me Wednesday afternoon, "in today's NFL for a young player to get a contract extension of any kind after two years. He's certainly on the path to be heavily financially rewarded."

Burfict's deal puts him in rare company, good company. He has no one to thank for that other than himself.

After just two seasons the former undrafted prospect from Arizona State -- one who was bashed by his college head coach before the 2012 combine, blasted by draftniks during it for his incredibly slow 40-yard time, and belittled after it by fans and sportswriters alike for having apparent maturity issues -- has certainly made a name for himself. He's cleaned up his image off the field, and completely shirked the "overlooked" label he once carried on it.

How has he done all of that? By putting his head down, keeping his mouth shut and playing some pretty good football.

Through two seasons, Burfict has recorded 298 tackles, trailing only Luke Kuechly (320) and Paul Posluszny (301) in that span. The next closest Bengal to Burfict is fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga who is 101 tackles behind with 197 since 2011.

Oh, and yeah, Burfict's also been to the Pro Bowl.

If you looked at those facts alone, you could make a good case for why Burfict ought to be considered the best player on a defense that ranked third in the league last season. His defensive coordinator and former position coach, Paul Guenther, wouldn't out-right disagree. Guenther has called Burfict his smartest pupil, and has valued his input throughout his transition this year to the Bengals' top defensive assistant's position.

When Guenther first started coaching Burfict, he saw a leader who didn't really know how to lead.

"He's so competitive that he would get mad at guys," Guenther said. "I said, 'Look, you can't do that because now that's going to set him off, which is going to set a fire.' I really worked on his leadership abilities and how to go about it in different ways."

As a reward for that and other lessons, Burfict had Guenther tag along when he went to the Pro Bowl.

With the potential for more Pro Bowls on his horizon, Burfict has positioned himself nicely the next several years of his career. Had he not signed an extension this year, he could have slipped into restricted free agency in March. Even if offered the highest possible tender, he still would have been grossly underpaid what he was worth for the 2015 season. He also would have had to wait until 2016 to see any real free-agency pay day. With this newly signed deal, the money he'll get in 2016 when he can start renegotiating should be more than he could ever fathom.

Burfict is indeed in good financial company and in rare company. And he has no one to thank but himself.