By JOSH DUBOW
Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended Monday for the rest of the season for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle, the most severe punishment in NFL history for an on-field infraction.
Burfict will miss the final 12 games of the season and any playoff games for “repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules.” He has been suspended three times in his career for hits violating the league’s player safety rules.
Burfict has the right under the collective bargaining agreement to appeal the punishment in the next three days. He had one of his previous suspensions reduced from five games to three games on an appeal in 2017.
It’s that history that led to the most severe punishment the NFL has handed out when it comes to player safety, topping the five games Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth got in 2006 for kicking and stomping on Cowboys center Andre Gurode’s face, leading to 30 stitches.
Burfict had served two three-game suspensions already in his career and had been warned about severe punishment for future infractions.
“There were no mitigating circumstances on this play,” NFL Vice President of football operations Jon Runyan said in a letter to Burfict announcing the suspension. “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 designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.”
“Your extensive history of rules violations is factored into this decision regarding accountability measures.”
The suspension is without pay, costing Burfict more than $1.1 million in salary and per game active roster bonuses.
Burfict was flagged for unnecessary roughness and ejected from the Raiders’ game against the Colts on Sunday after a blow to Doyle’s head early in the second quarter.
“I just got tackled,” Doyle said after the game. “I’m sure it looked worse than it was. I didn’t really feel anything from it. My helmet protected me.”
The Colts have now had two players enter the concussion protocol following games this season — All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard two weeks ago and starting safety Clayton Geathers following Sunday’s game. Doyle, Colts coach Frank Reich said Monday, showed no symptoms of a head injury.
But Reich backed the league’s decision.
“I was just thankful the league took the action that it did, and (I) support the league and the decision,” he said on a conference call Monday. “I did have a reaction yesterday. When someone does something like that and attacks one of your players — that’s just not supposed to be in the game. Then when it’s against one of your players, you naturally have a reaction. I’m just glad they did what they did at the game and the follow-up action seems very appropriate.”
Burfict during his time in Cincinnati was repeatedly suspended by the NFL for egregious hits and violating its policy on performance-enhancers. He was fined regularly for hits that crossed the line, most notably the one to Antonio Brown’s head that helped the Steelers rally for an 18-16 playoff win in the 2015 season. That led to a three-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
Burfict then was penalized for a blind-side block against Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman in the 2017 preseason that led to a five-game suspension that was later reduced to three games.
Burfict was also fined $112,000 last season for hits on Brown and James Conner in a game against Pittsburgh.
Despite that history, Burfict said after signing with the Raiders that he disputes accusations that he is a “dirty” player.
“I play a physical position, which is middle linebacker, outside linebacker. That’s physical,” he said. “I can’t go in there playing patty-cake. If I go out there playing patty-cake, then I’m going to be getting run over. I have 300-pound linemen, 300-plus pound linemen coming at me, trying to block me. If I play soft, then I’m not doing my job. I could see if I played quarterback or kicker or punter, then yeah you can be, I wouldn’t say soft, but you know what I’m saying. I play a physical position to where I have to put my jockstrap on right, put my shoes on right, put my cleats on right and come out ready to play physical.”
Burfict also was suspended for the first four games in 2018 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancers.
The loss of Burfict will be a big blow to the Raiders defense. He was brought in because of his extensive knowledge of coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme and had a key role as captain and signal caller to make sure Oakland ran it properly.
Tahir Whitehead took over as signal caller after Burfict left the game.
The Raiders arrived in London on Monday to prepare for an upcoming game against the Chicago Bears and players and coaches were unavailable for comment.