The Cincinnati Bengals just suffered a brutal playoff loss, but they're also taking a tough blow next season as well.
The NFL is suspending star linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the first three games of the 2016 NFL season for "repeated violations of safety-related playing rules."
A combination of Burfict's acts during the season caused the NFL to suspend Burfict, but his latest antic came with 22 seconds remaining in Saturday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he was penalized for using his shoulder to make contact to the head and neck area of a defenseless receiver, Antonio Brown, per the NFL.
Here is a replay of the hit in question:
As the video shows, Burfict thrusts his shoulder to make forcible contact to the head and neck area of Brown, a defenseless player.
The suspension was imposed by NFL Vice President of Football Operations Meron Hanks, who ruled that Burfict’s action placed his opponent at unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided. The suspension will take effect at the time of the final roster reduction prior to Week 1 of the 2016 regular season.
Burfict has previously been fined for safety-related violations four times in 2015, including a $50,000 fine for unnecessarily contacting an opponent who was out of the play in Cincinnati’s Week 17 game against the Baltimore Ravens. Here is a replay of that hit, which occurred when Burfict hit tight end Maxx Williams as he was running a route:
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Burfict's suspension may be appealed within three business days. Burfict will appeal the fine from Week 17, and Ian Rapoport reports Burfict will appeal the suspension as well. A three game suspension is unprecedented for this type of action, so it will be interesting to see how the appeal plays out and when it will occur as the suspension wouldn't start until the next NFL season.
Appeals are heard and decided by either former NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks or former NFL receiver James Thrash. Those two are the appeals officers jointly appointed and compensated by the NFL and NFLPA to decide appeals of on-field player discipline.
The NFL has also said that conduct of other players and coaches in Saturday's Steelers vs Bengals game is being reviewed for potential discipline.