Vontaze Burfict's on-field proficiency is often overshadowed by his reputation for drawing suspensions and missing games because of injury.
This conflicting dynamic begs the question: Should the Cincinnati Bengals consider parting ways with their fierce, run-stuffing terror?
For Duke Tobin, the Bengals' director of player personnel, there's no question about the status of his best defensive player even if he doesn't like the linebacker's frequent visits to the league's version of the principal's office.
"It's not ideal," Tobin said at the Annual League Meeting this week, per The Cincinnati Enquirer. "The situation he has put us in is not ideal. We are a player-oriented business. Players that can make a difference are important and we recognize that. The more he's not available to us the more it hurts us."
Unless it's reduced or overturned on appeal, Burfict will miss the first four games of the 2018 season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. It's the third suspension of Burfict's career. If the punishment sticks, the seventh-year defender will have missed a total of 10 games due to suspension while playing in 36 of a possible 64 regular-season tilts since 2014.
That sort of track record would send most players to the cutting room or the trade block, but Burfict isn't most players. That's why Bengals coach Marvin Lewis flatly said "no" when asked if he'd consider moving on from Burfict. Tobin echoed those sentiments even if the idea of parting ways with Burfict has come up before.
"Do we have conversations on that a lot? Sure, we have conversations on that a lot," Tobin said. "But at the end of the day we are a player-oriented business and the players are the ones that win or lose for us. We try to collect as many players that can help us win. That's our job. That's what we do. That's our responsibility as an organization: To try to put the best football team on the field that we possibly can.
"It's not ideal when a guy is not available to us and we recognize that, but our over-riding thought is how to field the best football team we can possibly field."
Unless it becomes a decision rooted in finances, Burfict's place on the Bengals doesn't appear to be in danger based on what Tobin and Lewis are saying. Whether his tenure with the team can survive another suspension beyond the one slated for September remains to be seen.