If the Cincinnati Bengals were to cut ties with linebacker Vontaze Burfict, which they won't, would you want the Ravens to take him?
I'm guessing most Baltimore fans wouldn't. That's how I feel, too. Burfict is often a dominating player, the kind you can build a defense around, but he struggles to control his emotions, which leaves him too volatile and unpredictable for my tastes. He's effective, but he crosses the line. He was fined $50,000 for a cheap hit on Ravens tight end Maxx Williams on Jan. 3, and his lack of control cost the Bengals dearly in their wild-card loss to Pittsburgh last weekend. There's always something going on. It's just too much.
Understand this, though: The Ravens know they could use a lot of what Burfict brings to the field, and they look back somewhat wistfully at the events that led to his ending up in Cincinnati when he turned pro in 2012.
They might not want him now, after his infamous hit on Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown Saturday night. The violent cheap shot has drawn the ire of fans everywhere. The NFL has announced Burfict will be suspended for three games at the start of the 2016 season. His reputation is at a low ebb, which is saying something.
Still, there have been many times since 2012 when the Ravens have sighed deeply about the fact that Burfict got away from them.
They were onto him early in his career at Arizona State. Ray Lewis was nearing the end and they needed a replacement. Burfict was one of the closest approximations to TNRL (the next Ray Lewis) they had seen. He delivered big hits from sideline to sideline, intimidating opponents, dominating games. Early in the build-up to the 2012 draft, many mock-draft analysts had the Ravens taking him in the first round. It seemed like the perfect fit.
The only problem was Burfict also piled up personal-foul penalties, enough to raise a caution flag. There were whispers that he was out of control. When his combine interview went disastrously, his stock dropped. The Ravens cooled on him. Everyone cooled on him. Incredibly, Burfict went undrafted.
Still, he was so good you knew someone would take a shot on him. The Bengals did, and Burfict played for them with the fervor of a man who felt he had been wronged and wanted everyone to know. He made the team. He made the starting lineup. He made the Pro Bowl. He had enough big games against the Ravens for them to understand full well what they missed by cooling on him.
But as some feared, he also has stirred up a steady stream of trouble, piling up penalties and fines, crossing lines. In 2013, he was fined $31,000 after one game and $21,000 after another. In 2014, Carolina players called for him to be suspended after he twisted their ankles in piles, for which he was fined $25,000. The Ravens have had several run-ins with him.
Last month, he drew $69,494 in fines for three hits in a regular-season game against Pittsburgh – the hits that set up Saturday night's ugliness. It certainly doesn't appear he's getting the message that fines and suspensions are supposed to send.
(The Steelers and Bengals have become the hottest AFC North rivalry for now, by the way. Their Saturday night playoff game was, in my mind, a low point of sorts for the league, but in the wake of it, the Ravens are going to have to accept that games between those two are what the football nation really wants to see right now.)
The Ravens, meanwhile, have played some decent defense since passing on Burfict in 2012, and while they've retrenched to a degree without Lewis and Ed Reed, their defense is no longer the forbidding unit that made history. Physical players such as linebackers Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw have carried on the tough-guy tradition, but overall, the Ravens could stand a little extra edge and attitude – yes, let's say it, a little more nastiness.
They could use a lot of what Burfict brings to the Bengals, the dominant player part, just not the part that loses his poise and crosses lines, injuring opponents and his own team.
So that's, like, 90 percent of Burfict. The Raven could use it. Frankly, what team couldn't? That player is hard to find and might not exist, but believe me, the Ravens are looking.