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Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict suspended for four games

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Vontaze Burfict will sit out Cincinnati's season opener for the third consecutive year.

The NFL confirmed Thursday that Burfict has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2018 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Bengals' top linebacker is eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games.

Now that Burfict's appeal has been denied, it's fair to question his future with the organization.

The Bengals and Raiders briefly conducted trade talks last month before news of Burfict's impending suspension surfaced, NFL Network Insider Ian Raporport reported. Due to the suspension, the nearly $11.3 million guaranteed portion of Burfict's three-year, $33 million contract will void, Rapoport added.

In effect, Cincinnati's decision-makers can move on from the trouble-prone tackler without a financial penalty. To date, the organization has stood by Burfict at every turn despite his unparalleled track record for running afoul of NFL law.

By the time his punishment ends in early October, Burfict will have missed a total of 10 games due to suspension while playing in 36 of a possible 64 regular-season matches since 2014.

Coach Marvin Lewis and director of player personnel Duke Tobin have each rejected the notion of flat-out releasing Burfict this offseason.

"Do we have conversations on that a lot? Sure, we have conversations on that a lot," Tobin explained at the Annual League Meeting late last month. "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."

Along with perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, Burfict is the backbone of Cincinnati's defense. The run defense, in particular, tends to crumble whenever its foremost enforcer is sidelined due to injury or league-imposed discipline.

Although versatile veteran Vincent Rey has replaced Burfict in the past, the team's website expects 2017 sixth-round draft pick Jordan Evans to join Nick Vigil and former Bills leading tackler Preston Brown in the starting lineup for the opening of the 2018 season.

If Evans plays up to the coaching staff's expectations during Burfict's absence, it will go a long way toward keeping pace with the superpower Steelers in the AFC North.

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