CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict's past has come back to haunt him.
The NFL announced Monday that a series of repeated violations of player-safety rules will cause the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker to be suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season. It appeared Burfict's penalty after hitting Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the head -- albeit with his shoulder pads -- on a key play in Saturday night's AFC wild-card game was the league's breaking point. The collision that led in part to a 35-yard, game-wining Steelers field goal came a week after a hard, fine-earning hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams, who was nowhere near the activity of play.
Clearly the league wants to send Burfict a statement it believes he didn't receive when he was charged nearly $70,000 in fines for a series of incidents in a December meeting with the Steelers, and $50,000 for that hit on the Baltimore tight end.
Here are several ways Burfict's suspension will affect the Bengals:
Vincent Rey should stick after free agency. From the outside looking in, it seemed this was going to happen anyway. An undrafted player, like Burfict, Rey climbed the Bengals' defensive ranks the past six years because of his desire to make himself better. First he earned playing time on various special-teams units, and that led to a reserve role at linebacker. Whenever Burfict or other linebackers suffered injuries in past years, Rey's reserve role turned into a starter's role. This past season, he played regularly, particularly at the start of the year while filling in for Burfict, who was finishing rehab from an offseason microfracture knee surgery. A more-than-capable backup, Rey proved his value in 2015. He proved he was a dependable backup who can replace Burfict while he's unavailable. He may have to do it again.
Burfict will miss a critical stage. While the Bengals would prefer Burfict miss the first three games instead of the last three, they still have to be troubled that he will be unavailable for such a critical stage of the season. Just like this past year, Cincinnati will want to come out strong in 2016 and string together a series of early wins to jump out to a commanding lead in the division. True, the Bengals won their first six games without Burfict in 2015, but this upcoming schedule could have a less favorable start. The full schedule will come out in April, but there is a chance the Bengals could see the Denver Broncos, Steelers (at home or away) or New England Patriots (away) at the start of the season.
Renewed emphasis on walking away. The Bengals seem to be making a renewed effort at preaching the impact of poise and worth of walking away. Players say they feel like they lost respect for opponents and for the game of football at times this past season, and they want to recapture that respect. Burfict's suspension serves as the perfect reinforcement of a lesson that should have been taught some time ago. Coach Marvin Lewis contends it has been taught, but it has been hard to tell of late.
Watered-down Burfict coming? One of Burfict's best attributes -- in the Bengals' eyes -- is that he toes a particular line of aggression that makes him a formidable linebacker. He had a league-leading 171 tackles in 2013 and reached 74 this year after missing six games. Might a watered-down version of him appear once he returns from the suspension? Will he play with less of an edge now? Will he be too tame or scared to be fined or suspended even more?