The NFL finally reached its breaking point with Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
For the first time in league history, it suspended a player for the remainder of the season for a dirty hit on the field.
Burfict was suspended for the rest of the season for a hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle. Doyle was getting up after a short catch, and Burfict nailed him with a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit. He was ejected in the Raiders’ 31-24 victory. The suspension will cost Burfict $1.16 million in forfeited salary.
The hit itself wasn’t worthy of a year-long suspension, but Burfict’s history was. In 2016 and 2017 he got suspensions for headhunting hits that ended up being three games each. The NFL must have figured those suspensions hadn’t changed Burfict’s behavior, so the league banned him for the rest of the season.
NFL: ‘Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant’
In a statement, the NFL said this of Burfict’s suspension:
“Vontaze Burfict of the Oakland Raiders has been suspended without pay for the remainder of the 2019 season, as well as any postseason games, for repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules, including in Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan issued the suspension for a violation of Rule 12, Article 10, which states that: ‘It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.’
“In his letter to Burfict, Runyan wrote: ‘There were no mitigating circumstances on this play. Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided. For your actions, you were penalized and disqualified from the game. Following each of your previous rule violations, you were warned by me and each of the jointly-appointed appeal officers that future violations would result in escalated accountability measures. However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designed to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.’
“Under the collective bargaining agreement, the suspension may be appealed within three business days. Appeals are heard and decided by either Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, the officers jointly appointed and compensated by the NFL and NFLPA to decide appeals of on-field player discipline.”
NFL came down hard on Vontaze Burfict
The NFL has given suspensions of at least a year to players for arrests, gambling, repeated substance abuse policy violations, but never for a hit on the field.
The only similar punishment would be the ones for the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program. The long suspensions that came out of that, however, were for the plot to injure opponents more than any particular hit.
This punishment is unique in NFL history. And Burfict earned it by being a menace on the field, repeatedly breaking the league’s rules to eliminate dirty hits from the game. From dangerous hits on then-Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in a playoff game, or Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in a preseason game, or even diving at then-Bengals teammate Giovani Bernard’s knees in a practice, Burfict’s reputation is well earned.
Burfict has a long history
Burfict was a problem in college too. That’s why, despite a lot of talent, he went undrafted. He became a good player for the Cincinnati Bengals, but his dirty play has always been an issue.
Burfict’s history of dirty play is long. He racked up more than $4.2 million in fines, counting lost game checks due to suspensions, before this latest violation according to Spotrac. Including a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s performance enhancing drug policy, he had missed 10 NFL games due to suspension. Burfict signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Raiders this offseason.
Raiders opponents can rest easy, at least for the rest of this season. They won’t have to worry about Burfict looking to head-hunt them anymore in 2019.
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