After losing their two best free agents, Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth last offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals reportedly ensured the same wouldn't happen to Vontaze Burfict after the team announced he'd agreed to a three-year extension on Thursday.
ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the news and noted the contract was worth $38 million.
Burfict was entering the final year of his current deal.
Since signing with Cincinnati as an undrafted rookie in 2012, Burfict has been one of the key players for the team's defense. He led the team in tackles in each of his first two seasons and again in 2016. He also reached the Pro Bowl in 2013.
While Burfict's talent isn't in question, the 26-year-old has built a reputation as one of the dirtier players in the NFL.
He received a three-game suspension to start the 2016 regular season following his hit to the head of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the Wild Card Round of the 2015 playoffs. The official statement from the NFL listed "repeated violations of safety-related playing rules" as the reason behind Burfict's suspension.
In June 2016, ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler argued the negative perception around Burfict "will be difficult to shake."
"The disdain opposing players have for Burfict reaffirms the belief that he’s dirty, and I try not to throw around that word casually," Fowler said. "But players know when a guy has good intentions. They believe Burfict crossed that plane a long time ago."
Burfict's aggression isn't limited to opposing teams, either. He tackled teammate Giovani Bernard, who's coming off a torn ACL, low during training camp, which caused tempers to flare between the offense and defense. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Kareem Elgazzar shared photos from the scene:
Burfict's suspension last year illustrated how his reputation can have a tangible impact on the Bengals as a whole. Cincinnati went 1-2 and allowed an average of 356.3 yards and 25.0 points per game without Burfict to start last year. The Bengals surrendered 350.8 yards and 19.7 points per game over the course of the 2016 season.
The 2016 campaign was also the third straight in which Burfict failed to play a full season, raising some questions as to his durability.
Despite his obvious drawbacks, Burfict is an irreplaceable member of a defense that took a step backward. The Bengals ranked 10th in defensive efficiency in 2015 and slipped to 17th in 2016, per Football Outsiders.
Just as the departures of Zeitler and Whitworth hit the offensive line hard, losing Burfict would've been a significant blow to Cincinnati's defense, and re-signing him was essentially the only choice the Bengals had.