Vontaze Burfict was already in uncharted territory, and the Raiders linebacker (and team captain) has set a new disciplinary record as the NFL has suspended him for the remainder of the 2019 season. This amounts to 12 regular season games and is disqualified from the postseason, which is more than any infraction for an on-field offense in NFL history.
Burfict was ejected from Sunday’s game against the Colts for lowering his head to hit tight end Jack Doyle. After catching a pass on the ground and attempting to get up, Burfict zeroed in on Doyle’s helmet by lowering his own helmet to initiate contact. The helmet-to-helmet contact aside, the dipping of the helmet with one’s eyes to the ground is the signature of the use-of-the-helmet foul, regardless of where the contact lands. Burfict is aware of this, as he was injured as a member of the Bengals when they played the Steelers on a Monday night in 2017 for illegal helmet contact, and watched as Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was carted off the field with a serious spinal injury for the same hit he administered on Doyle. (Burfict was released from the Bengals and signed by the Raiders this year.)
Burfict can appeal the decision, and appeals are expedited so a team can prepare for a player’s absence. While it is possible to see a reduction in the length of the suspension, it is fairly reasonable to assume that a lengthy suspension will remain, and he certainly will not travel to London for the Raiders next contest.
Here’s the other helmet-to-helmet hit that Vontaze Burfict delivered during Sunday’s game: second quarter, 13:24 left, and Burfict launches and blasts Colts’ RB Nyheim Hines away from the play. Later came the hit on Colts’ TE Jack Doyle that got him ejected and suspended. pic.twitter.com/8Dvb7xPZgo
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 5, 2019
Previously, the longest suspension for an on-field infraction was Albert Haynesworth, who deliberately scraped his cleats on the unprotected face of Cowboys center Andre Gurode in 2005. Haynesworth was suspended for 5 games. There have only been seven times in the 100 years of NFL history where a player served a multiple-game suspension for violations during a game; three of those seven suspensions, including this current one, were given to Burfict.
Burfict has three helmet hits from last season, which are recent enough to not clean his slate of past infractions. “The repeat offender policy applies to any player who violates a safety-related rule,” according to the League Policy for Players manual. “That player will be considered a potential repeat offender and will be treated as such should he commit a further violation during a subsequent period of 32 consecutive games.” In calculating those games, it includes all regular season, postseason, and no more than 2 preseason games. Burfict’s last fine for a helmet hit occurred in December 2018, according to Spotrac.
The head of game disciplinary sanctions is Jon Runyan, the vice president of football operations. In a letter to Burfict, Runyan laid out the case for the suspension:
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 designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.
Your extensive history of rules violations is factored into this decision regarding accountability measures.
Multiple-game suspensions of NFL players for game infractions
|Vontaze Burfict||OAK||2019||12 games*||flagrant lowering helmet to initiate contact, numerous past infractions in a continuous span (ejected via replay)|
|Albert Haynesworth||TEN||2005||5 games||stepping on face of prone, helmetless player (ejected)|
|Vontaze Burfict||CIN||2017**||3 games‡||blindside block/unnecessary roughness with prior suspendable infractions (no penalty)|
|Vontaze Burfict||CIN||2015†||3 games||multiple infractions of defenseless player hits (no penalty)|
|Brandon Meriweather||WAS||2014**||2 games||defenseless player hit, multiple prior illegal hits§|
|Ndamukong Suh||DET||2011||2 games||stomped on prone player (ejected)|
|Charles Martin||GB||1986||2 games||slamming quarterback long after pass thrown (ejected)|
|*Remainder of the 2019 season, including postseason. **preseason. †postseason, served in 2016. ‡reduced from 5 games on appeal. §also factors that a prior suspension was reduced from 2 games to 1 on appeal.
Sources: So You Think You Know Football?, Football Zebras research