Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be suspended for only the first three games of the 2017 NFL season after NFL appeals officer James Thrash heard the appeal on the five-game suspension handed down by the NFL to the linebacker.
This, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
Breaking: I'm told that Vontaze Burfict's 5-game suspension has been reduced to three games, per source. #Bengals— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) August 30, 2017
Anderson reported earlier this afternoon that Burfict presented a “very good case” for himself. The appeal was heard on Tuesday afternoon.
Burfict will now miss the Bengals’ home opener against the Baltimore Ravens, the Thursday Night Football matchup in Week 2 against the Houston Texans and the Week 3 showdown in Green Bay against the Packers. He will return for the October 1 game against the Browns in Cleveland.
The suspension was triggered by what the NFL claimed was an illegal hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in Week 2 of the preseason.
Here are a bunch of different views of the suspension-inducing play.
This is the hit that the NFL is suspending Vontaze Burfict 5 games for. pic.twitter.com/Xiyab0kdrC— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) August 28, 2017
Burfict was suspended for Weeks 1-3 of the 2016 NFL season due to repeated violations of the NFL’s safety rules. He has also been fined numerous times due to his on-field actions and breaking the league’s safety rules. Because he’s a repeat offender, the suspension this time around was increased from the first suspension, up to five games. But, after the appeal, Burfict will miss the same number of games due to suspension in 2017 as he did in 2016.
Burfict has not played in Week 1 of an NFL season since 2014. In 2015 he was injured and now he’ll have back-to-back three game suspensions, first in 2016 and now in 2017.
Vontaze Burfict Fine & Suspension History
|10.27.2017||--||$12,154||Kicking Roosevelt Nix|
|8.28.2017||Three-game suspension (after appeal)||$1,770,975||Illegal hit against Anthony Sherman|
|4.1.2016||Three-game suspension||$502,941||Hit on a defenseless receiver (Antonio Brown)|
|12.18.2016||--||$69,454||Multiple unsportsmanlike conducts|
|10.15.2014||--||$25,000||Ankle-twist on Cam Newton and Greg Olsen|
|9.27.2013||--||$21,000||Hit on a defenseless receiver (James Jones)|
|9.27.2013||--||$10,000||Striking player in the groin|
Burfict is playing on the final year of his current contract and the hope was he would prove he’s moved on from has past and understand the future of the NFL is one in which the league takes player safety very seriously. The Bengals have trusted Burfict in ensuring his questionable play is in the past. And Marvin Lewis does believe Burfict has changed.
"I think Vontaze has changed quite a bit," Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer this week. "I think he has changed tremendously, he’s changed a lot."
As for the play in question, Lewis also offered an explanation for why he believes it’s a legal hit by Burfict.
"As long as the quarterback hasn’t thrown the ball it’s still a legal play," Lewis said. "The player is running down the field at Vontaze. The player is in his spot and Vontaze is in his spot. He’s not running across the field where he gets hit blindside-wise."
New NFL senior V.P. of officiating Alberto Riveron told PFT Live there are two rules Burfict broke by his suspension-causing hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman. One being an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver and the other being an unnecessary hit as the ball was not thrown toward Sherman.
Without delving excessively into the details of the Burfict case, which is pending on appeal, Riveron said in a Tuesday morning interview with PFT Live that Burfict also applied an unnecessary hit to Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman after quarterback Alex Smith had thrown the ball elsewhere.
The ball did not end up going to Sherman, but it seems Burfict made his hit before he knew exactly where the ball was heading. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith did look Sherman’s way before throwing the ball. As we know, Burfict is a highly instinctual player, so that’s not at all out of the question. This is also what Lewis alluded to.
Bengals players were also surprised by the suspension to their teammate and defensive leader as nobody in Cincinnati wants to see Burfict off-the-field.
“Five games? Are you serious?” Vinny Rey said of his first reaction, via Bengals.com. “We understand where the NFL is going and trying to protect players. But it seemed like it was within five yards. It seemed like it was a shoulder and he was leading with his helmet.”
Fellow linebacker and first-year starter Nick Vigil says he thinks it looked like a legal hit, though “maybe a little high.”
“I was a little bit surprised to see how long. Five games is a lot to me,” Vigil said. “It looked like a legal hit from the front with the shoulder. Maybe a little high, but it looked good to me. That’s how he plays. He’s a physical player. That’s Vontaze. If you’re in the game he’s going to hit you. It’s football. You’re going to get hit.”
It seems safe to say that if anyone other than Burfict had made a hit like this in the preseason, it would go unnoticed, but because of the reputation Burfict built up, this is the type of treatment he should expect in the future.
The Bengals need to decide whether they want to deal with that for the long-term as Burfict will become a free agent in March. The next questionable hit from Burfict could bring on a full year-long suspension, so the Bengals linebacker must be careful, even if something he does would be considered acceptable by another player in the league.
In the letter notifying Burfict of his suspension, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan wrote:
"This is not your first offense with respect to illegal hits to defenseless players; 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 January 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."
The suspension being changed from five games to three is better than it remaining at five games, but it’s just hard to understand Burfict being suspended for a hit in a preseason game that hardly seems to be illegal by NFL standards.