During his NFL career, linebacker Vontaze Burfict has seemingly been more focused on establishing himself as the dirtiest player in the league. Time and time again, the league has suspended and fined the linebacker for flagrant play.
And then came Sunday and another unnecessary helmet-to-helmet collision with Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle that got him kicked out of the Oakland Raiders’ 31-24 win early in the second quarter. If you missed it, Burfict blew kisses to the Colts fans as he was leaving the field.
“It’s a tough decision, it’s a tough call. I think it was a flag,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden on Sunday. “It was very well-documented that the league was going to review those plays this year in New York City. So that’s what happened and I’ll wait to hear what their reasoning was. But it was a penalty, he went in there with his head down, it was called and, unfortunately for us, it was an ejection.”
After listening to social media calling for reparations – Warren Sharp asked for Burfict’s lifetime expulsion – the NFL announced on Monday it has suspended the linebacker without pay for the remainder of the 2019 season.
“There were no mitigating circumstances on this play,” wrote Jon Runyan, the NFL’s vice president of football operations in a letter to Burfict. “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.”
Burfict’s agent, Lamont Smith, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson he will appeal the suspension. Smith also told Anderson he believes “the 12-game suspension is excessive and the play that triggered the suspension was a football play.”
According to the league, Burfict’s appeal would be heard by either Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, both former players, who have been hired by the NFL and NFLPA to decide appeals of on-field player discipline.
The suspension is the longest ever assessed for an on-field act in the NFL’s 100-year history. The league once suspended Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth five games in 2006 after he stepped on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode after his helmet had fallen off.
This is the fourth suspension of Burfict’s NFL career totaling of 22 games and costing him $4,622,182 in salary. He’d also been fined nine other times totaling $411,064.
Burfict was signed as a free agent by the Raiders based on his history playing in Cincinnati for current Oakland defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. So impressed were the Raiders with his play and decorum they named him a team captain.
“I just think it’s exciting for people to see what type of team we have because the team chemistry we have is just amazing,” said Burfict earlier this season. “This is my second team, but it’s the first time I’ve had a team like this and everybody gets along. It doesn’t matter what type of day it is. We’re all here to see each other get better and motivate each other. We’ve got a lot of characters, in a good way.”
Here is the history of Burfict’s transgressions:
While playing for the Bengals in Week 3 of the 2013 season, Burfict was fined $31,000 for a hit on a defenseless receiver (Green Bay’s James Jones) and for intentionally striking another Packers player in the groin.
On Oct. 14, 2014, Burfict was accused by Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen of intentionally trying to twist both his and quarterback Cam Newton’s ankles after both had scored touchdowns. The league chose not to suspend Burfict but fined him $25,000.
After a Week 14 loss to the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger accused Burfict of intentionally targeting his ankle. Burfict received three fines totaling $69,454. He received a fine for his hit on Roethlisberger and two other fines for unnecessary roughness penalties.
During the AFC Wild Card Game against the Steelers, Burfict was called for unnecessary roughness with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter for a hit he delivered to the head of Antonio Brown with the Bengals leading Pittsburgh 16–15. Brown was knocked unconscious and exited the game with a concussion.
On January 11, 2016, the NFL suspended Burfict for the first three games of the season for repeated violations of player safety rules.
On August 28, 2017, Burfict was suspended for the first five games of that season thanks to a blindside block on Chiefs’ fullback Anthony Sherman during a preseason game. Burfict appealed his suspension, which was subsequently reduced to three games.
On October 22, 2017, Burfict kicked Steelers’ fullback Roosevelt Nix in the face mask during the Bengals’ 29–14 loss. The NFL issued Burfict a fine of $12,154.
During Week 10 against the Titans, Burfict was ejected for the first time in his career after committing two personal fouls. The first was a late hit on DeMarco Murray, the other an unsportsmanlike conduct for bumping into an official.
On March 16, 2018, Burfict received a four-game suspension for violating the leagues’ policy against performance-enhancing drugs. And then in Week 6, Burfict delivered a hit to Brown that unintentionally injured his teammate, Jessie Bates. Burfict received a $112,000 fine for hits on Brown and James Conner the league considered unnecessary.