Vontaze Burfict has carried the stigma of being perceived as a dirty player for quite some time now. While that narrative may be justifiable due to the number of questionable hits Burfict has leveled on players in his career, it does not mean he isn’t capable of a fresh start on a new team.
One thing Burfict has going for him is that he has an excellent relationship with Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Raiders general manager Mike Mayock noted that their relationship was a large reason for the decision to bring Burfict on.
“When your defensive coordinator feels that strongly about something, and it’s a position of need and he’s only 28 years old, let’s go,” Mayock said. “Vontaze Burfict is a Raider and I’m all-in.”
Mayock himself was one of Burfict’s loudest critics when he was a draft analyst at the NFL Network. Mayock went so far as to call Burfict “non-draftable.” Fortunately for Burfict, Guenther was vocal in his desire to give Burfict another chance, this time as a Raider.
“Paul knows this guy better than any of us. Paul banged the table for him. Hard,” said Mayock about Guenther’s defense of Burfict.
Burfict is definitely a player meant for another era. He would’ve fit in great with the Raiders of the 70s and 80s. He’s a head hunter with a tendency to go too far. Though Guenther wasn’t necessarily successful at stopping Burfict from being his own worst enemy, a fresh start in Oakland with his former coach could lead to a positive change in Burfict. Burfict’s best season came while he was coached by Guenther. Guenther turned Burfict from an undrafted player to a second team all-pro selection. If e is able to hold back Burfict’s knuckleheadedness, this could mean great things for the Raiders as they’ve had really poor play at linebacker for several years at this point. Guenther wanted a “quarterback” on defense and he may have found that in Vontaze Burfict.
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The decision to add Burfict was met with a level of concern by a number of people, especially due to his previous run-ins with new Raider wide receiver Antonio Brown. Fortunately, the new teammates have quickly put to rest the notion that there’s still bad blood between the two.
Impressions from other players on the team have been positive, as well. Second-year defensive tackle Maurice Hurst gave his take on Burfict in an interview he did with NBC Sports’ Scott Bair:
“He has complete understanding, so there’s certain things that he knows that are going to occur during the course of a season, so he’s able to adjust it, adjust us, tell us we can play a backside gap on this, he’ll cover us, or whatever. He’s real easy to talk to and just a great teammate overall.”
Burfict’s understanding of Guenther’s defense has been an invaluable resource for young defenders who are still trying to learn it.
As volatile as Burfict’s career has been, there’s never been an indication that he was a bad teammate. Him building rapport with Brown and some young defenders is a positive sign. However, the fact of the matter is, it’s impossible to know if his days of dirty plays are behind him until he actually suits up in silver and black on Sundays.