The Oakland Raiders are upset about the lengthy suspension handed down to linebacker Vontaze Burfict for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle.
Burfict was suspended Monday for the final 12 games of the season and any playoff games for “repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules” in the most severe penalty ever handed out by the NFL for an on-field infraction.
Coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday after the team’s practice in London that he had expressed his disagreement with NFL Vice President of football operations Jon Runyan over the punishment and hopes it will be reduced on appeal.
“He knows how I feel,” Gruden told reporters in London. “It hurts our team really bad and I’m anxious to see what the appeal says. I’m not happy about it at all and I don’t want to say anything else. I’m obviously upset about it.”
Burfict has been suspended twice previously for on-field hits, serving a three-game ban in 2016 and another three-game suspension the following year that was reduced from five games on appeal. The previous longest suspension served for an on-field infraction was a five-game ban Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth got in 2006 for kicking and stomping on Cowboys center Andre Gurode’s face, leading to 30 stitches.
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.
Runyan said in a letter to Burfict that there were no mitigating circumstances on the play and his long history led to the punishment.
“Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided,” Runyan wrote.
Quarterback Derek Carr called Burfict “one of the most misunderstood people in the NFL” and said his loss would have a big impact on the Raiders.
“When he showed up, he quickly turned into one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had,” Carr said. “He’s one of the most genuine, awesome people I’ve ever been around. He’s a great teammate, he works his tail off and he’s a great guy to be honest with you. I know that he’s had history at places, but I think people change. I don’t think he was trying to hurt that man. That man was going down, you see it all the time.”
Carr said he was particularly frustrated because he believes no consistent standard across the league, pointing to Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey appearing to choke Cleveland receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during a scuffle last week and a helmet-to-helmet hit by New England’s Jonathan Jones that knocked out Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen.
“We see other people choking people out and they’re going to play this Sunday. We see people hitting people in the helmets and they’re going to play this Sunday, and Vontaze Burfict won’t play the rest of the year,” Carr said.
“I think that’s a little excessive if you ask me. I don’t think it’s fair if we really got to know the guy. If the people making the decisions really knew the guy that we know inside our building, so I’m just being as honest as I can be because that’s who I am. He’s a great person, his heart is broken because he’s not playing football. The guy just wants to play football.”
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.
Teammate Tahir Whitehead, who will take over the role as defensive signal caller, said Burfict had worked had to change his reputation.
“Understanding and knowing how hard he worked, with the perception that was out there about him, how hard he worked to not be that guy, it’s really frustrating for me to see the penalty that’s been handed down to him,” Whitehead said.
“Just have to step it up, we all have to chip in, pull it together and make sure that we play for him now. Just play hard, the way he played the game, making sure that we’re pulling in the same direction.”
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