CINCINNATI — The Bengals signed linebacker Vontaze Burfict to a three-year contract extension Thursday as he began his latest NFL suspension for egregious conduct on the field.
Burfict’s contract was up at the end of this season. The new deal runs through the 2020 season.
Burfict is the Bengals’ top defensive player. He’s also been its most suspended player over the last two seasons, twice punished by the NFL for his on-field conduct. His hit to Antonio Brown’s head helped the Steelers rally for an 18-16 playoff win during the 2015 season and drew a three-game suspension to start last season.
His latest suspension came for leveling Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during the second preseason game. The league cited his history of egregious hits in handing out the current penalty, which was reduced from five games to three on appeal.
Burfict had a history of personal fouls at Arizona State that factored into every NFL team passing on him in the 2012 draft. The Bengals signed him as a free agent and have steadfastly supported him despite his troubles. He’s been a key playmaker on coach Marvin Lewis’ defense with 582 tackles, seven sacks, five interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in his first five seasons.
He also has been one of the league’s most-frequently fined — eight times — players and been suspended twice for questionable hits. The Bengals announced the extension after the media availability ended on Thursday. Lewis said in a statement that Burfict “is still one of the young, emerging talents within the league.”
“It was important to reach an extension before the start of the season, and we look forward to having Vontaze back with the team in a few weeks,” Lewis said.
Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones also is suspended by the NFL for Cincinnati’s home opener on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. Jones was convicted of a misdemeanor in the offseason related to an altercation at a downtown hotel. Jones also was part of Cincinnati’s meltdown in the 2015 playoff game against the Steelers, drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty that helped set up the winning field goal.