Vontaze Burfict will miss the first three games of the 2017 season after a five-game suspension handed out in preseason was reduced following an appeal by the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
The suspension was for a hit delivered on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during the second week of the preseason.
It was deemed a violation of a recent rule change that prohibits blindside hits from behind or the side. But video appeared to show Burfict strike Sherman with his shoulder to the fullback’s chest.
This is the hit that the NFL is suspending Vontaze Burfict 5 games for. pic.twitter.com/Xiyab0kdrC— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) August 28, 2017
The Bengals came to Burfict’s defense and said it was a legal hit, and the reduced suspension supports the linebacker’s claim that the play wasn’t an egregious enough offense to warrant a five-game ban.
So why is Burfict still suspended three games? It’s a question that the NFL will have trouble answering. If he broke the rules and delivered a dangerous hit, why reduce the suspension? If he didn’t break the rules and in fact delivered a legal hit, why is he out for three games?
There was a similar situation in 2016 when Burfict was fined $75,000 for allegedly stomping on LeGarrette Blount. However, replay appeared to show that Burfict didn’t stomp on Blount at all. If he stomped on him, that’s surely enough for a suspension, but if he didn’t, he shouldn’t be punished at all.
Burfict’s history affects the NFL’s discipline. There’s no player in the NFL who is under the microscope more than Burfict. With three games on the sideline in 2017, he’ll eclipse $1 million worth of fines and forfeitures due to league punishments.
The reality is that if any other player delivered the hit on Sherman, it would have had a strong chance of going unnoticed. And if that hypothetical player were punished, they probably would’ve had a much better chance of having the suspension erased after an appeal.
NFL vice president Jon Runyan said that it’s the linebacker’s history that led to the harsh discipline.
“This is not your first offense with respect to illegal hits to defenseless players,” Runyan said in a letter to Burfict announcing the punishment. “To the contrary, this incident is consistent with your pattern of egregious safety-related violations including your hit on a defenseless player during the 2015 Wild Card game and your hit against a Baltimore tight end away from the play on Jan. 3, 2016.
“When players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player ... you must be held accountable for this continuing unacceptable conduct.”
Burfict’s history has removed his benefit of the doubt, and he’s judged much more harshly and strictly by the NFL.
The rule that earned him a suspension may be Burfict’s doing. The suspension for the Bengals linebacker reveals some flaws in one of the NFL’s new rules. There’s plenty of gray area regarding what constitutes a defenseless player and how they are allowed to be hit.
But the hits that Runyan cites as previous examples of Burfict’s behavior were both similar to the hit on Sherman. While Antonio Brown was attempting to make a play when he was hit by Burfict, Ravens tight end Maxx Williams was hit by the linebacker similar to the way Sherman was.
Now what for the Bengals? With Burfict sidelined until October, the team will turn to veteran Vincent Rey and rookie Carl Lawson to fill his shoes until he’s eligible to return for a Week 4 game against the Cleveland Browns.