Teams usually have to recruit undrafted free agents in order to get them to sign. In the case of Vontaze Burfict, it seemed like the former Arizona State linebacker was the one pursuing the Cincinnati Bengals.
Burfict, a one-time first-round prospect whose stock plummeted due to poor offseason workouts and increased concern about his off-the-field issues, sought out Marvin Lewis after his pro day, according to the Bengals head coach. Burfict's persistence -- as well as investigative skills -- made an impression on Lewis.
"It was just the fact he took the opportunity to find my phone number because I don't know that I gave it to him," Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "To call me, to write me a letter, to do some other things. He got my phone number and called me and said, 'I hope I get an opportunity.' I said, 'I hope you do, too.'"
The Bengals signed Burfict after he went undrafted and plan to use him at middle linebacker. The team also plans to give him a fresh start.
”I struck a chord with him and maybe that’s what he needs," Lewis told the Enquirer. "He’s got a lot of story. I don’t have to believe any of it. It doesn’t matter one way or another to me now. What he does now from this point forward is going to determine whether or not he can be a NFL player. I think he has some ability. When you watch the tape there are a lot of things he didn’t do very well. But he does some things I can’t coach that he can do.
Lewis added, “We will continue to get him in shape. He’s a better conditioned athlete now than he was at the combine and at ASU in March. If he continues to go down that path, he seems bright enough to learn. He seems willing to want change this image people have of him.”
This is a good move for the Bengals because it's a low-risk one. They didn't invest a draft pick or a big signing bonus in him. The upside is he can become the top backup this year -- and perhaps start if Rey Maualuga is suspended under the league's personal conduct policy -- and make an immediate impact on special teams.
The first step for Burfict begins this weekend, when the Bengals have their rookie minicamp.