I was recently asked to provide a most disgruntled Bengals player to the Scout.com NFL Network folks, who have a future piece in mind about the subject on a league-wide basis. The assumption is that there are players on every NFL team who have some sort of beef at some point in time with how things are done. That's certainly been the case with the Bengals although you don't see it much.
Respected veteran starting offensive left tackle Andrew Whitworth has shown the most disgruntlement directed at the team in the last year when he said he was miffed at the lack of communication by the team after the Bengals selected a pair of offensive tackles with their first two picks of the 2015 NFL draft. Whitworth uttered the now-famous line: "It's not really top of the line customer service."
While he keeps a happy face in pubic and continues to be a rock-solid leader for the team as one of its most thoughtful people, the perennial captain can't be too thrilled that he's slowly being phased out while near the peak of his powers, and few signs of slowing down. There's a sense he won't go quietly, but it's not really fair to call Whitworth a disgruntled Bengal.
My instruction was to name a prominent player who is the most disgruntled on the Bengals. I also was asked to explain with a short overview why he is disgruntled. With hiring and firings, player additions and player cuts, pay cuts and pay raises, there's bound to be some tension between management and employees, especially when free-agency rolls around and the draft looming. But, you have to look hard right now to find that kind of tension in Cincinnati.
We considered Whitworth, but Whit's almost always in a good place emotionally, and it takes a lot to make him outwardly unhappy and critical of the team. He hasn't piped up about his future status in almost a year.
Reigning NFL interceptions co-leader Reggie Nelson was a momentary consideration because the veteran safety remains unsigned following a career year. But Nelson technically isn't a Bengal. He's an unrestricted free agent who didn't get in on the bigger slices of the money pie during the first weeks of the signing period. He's not likely to reap a big financial windfall with lots of guaranteed money as an aging albeit productive safety after this late date, but it has been done on rare occasion. That can't be too pleasing for the proud veteran.
The choice we went with was linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Here's what I wrote:
The most disgruntled Bengal right now is starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but he's not unhappy with the team. The Bengals are a relatively happy bunch coming off their fifth straight playoff appearance. Coach Marvin Lewis does a good job keeping the disparate personalities in check, and the team takes care of its own in free-agency. There's very little public discord and finger-pointing at the team by its own players.
Burfict is upset that the league won't rethink his three-game suspension to open the 2016 season. The NFL heard his appeal in February. Burfict and Lewis met with commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent, but it wasn't part of the formal appeal process. NFL appeals officer Derrick Brooks upheld Burfict's suspension, handed down in January for repeated violations of player safety rules.
Burfict has drawn 16 personal fouls and been fined five times during his five NFL seasons. The final straw was the linebacker's shoulder-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh's defenseless Antonio Brown after the throw sailed past the wide receiver on a play with 22 seconds left in January's Wild Card playoff. Burfict was called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. The Bengals lost the contest. Brown missed the Steelers' next game with a concussion. Burfict, entering the third year of a four-year $20 million contract, won't be paid during the suspension, and he's going to have to live with it. It'll go down as the half-million dollar mistake. The suspension will cost Burfict $502,941 of his 2016 salary.
You could look higher up and make a case that coach Lewis is privately disgruntled for not having a longer contract in place with the team. One could argue that owner and president Mike Brown is more unhappy with the Bengals than he's letting on publicly, particularly after this latest playoff debacle. But Brown has been on recent record saying that's he's happy with the state of the franchise and that he likes Lewis as a person and a coach. Lewis says it is what it is, and keeps plugging.
The most disgruntled people are Bengals fans. Five straight playoff berths are nice, but football fans in Cincinnati are weathering a generational loss. Not only have they suffered through a 26-year playoff win drought, they had to watch indignantly as one of the more disappointing endings in franchise history unfolded in bizarre fashion during the latest unraveling in January's self-inflicted season-ending loss to the Steelers.