The league officially announced that Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict is suspended for the rest of the 2019 season for his helmet-to-helmet hit Sunday on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle.
Jon Runyan, vice president of football operations, wrote a letter to Burfict explaining the decision to suspend him for the remainder of the season. The letter stated, in relevant part:
“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 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.”
This letter made clear that Burfict’s suspension was a result of “repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules.”
The suspension will ultimately cause Burfict to forfeit approximately $1.16 million.
Under the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Burfict has the right to appeal the suspension, and he has done just that.
Burfict and the NFLPA, who is legally obligated to represent him on appeal, will raise the question of whether a dangerous, but not immediately injurious, helmet-to-helmet hit should trigger the longest suspension for an on-field infraction in NFL history. Burfict and the NFLPA will obviously be arguing that the answer to that question is “no.”
Claiming innocence will not be a winning strategy for Burfict, as it is clear that he violated Rule 12 of the NFL’s rulebook. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 10 specifically states that a player violates Rule 12 if he “lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” It is clear from video and pictorial evidence that Burfict’s lowered his head to make helmet-to-helmet contact.
Since Burfict is unable to claim innocence, his representatives will likely focus on the severity of the punishment. Michael McCann, a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated, anticipates that: “Burfict will insist that a 12-game suspension is unreasonably long and illogical in light of previous punishments. [Burfict’s] 12-game suspension reflects a 140% increase over what had been the longest suspension for on-field incidents in the NFL’s 99-year history.”
The absence of an immediate injury will also be stressed. Haynesworth notorious face stomp, which resulted in a five game suspension, resulted in a serious facial injury for his opponent. Burfict, however, did not appear to injure Doyle. Therefore, it will be hard for the NFL to argue that Burfict’s hit was more egregious than Haynesworth’s, and it may be difficult to justify Burfict’s significantly harsher punishment.
With these arguments, it is definitely possible that Burfict’s suspension may be reduced. However, the NFL can credibly argue that the lengthy punishment is necessary in light of Burfict’s re-offender status and reputation of being a dangerous player.
Burfict’s appeal, set to be heard this Tuesday (10/8), will ultimately be in the hands of Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks— the neutral who was jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA to preside over the appeal.