In recent history, the NFL has attempted to do its part to ensure player safety by handing out harsh fines and suspensions for plays that include helmet-to-helmet contact. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see the season-long suspension Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been given.
When taking into account Burfict’s past, I am in full agreement a fine of some sort with perhaps a two-game suspension is warranted as he clearly made no attempt to lead with his shoulder when tackling Colts tight end Jack Doyle. The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, however, leaned more towards the harsher route by not allowing him to play for the remainder of the season.
If the NFL wants to continue to lay the law down by enforcing strict suspensions such as this one, that’s fine. Hits like these have no place in the game and these athletes have a life after football and it should be lived without the fear of having lingering head trauma. Player safety is of the utmost importance and it should continue to be that way.
The NFL, on the other hand, is picking and choosing the battles it wants to fight, while clearly neglecting other egregious plays, where some don’t even get a second look. Burfict received a flag almost immediately as the play occurred and after a subsequent official review of the play, he was then ejected from the contest.
Here’s the hit from Burfict.
Raiders Vontaze Burfict out for the year after a helmet-to-helmet hit during yesterday's Raiders-Colts game. Burfict was ejected from the game. Now he's been handed the longest punishment for an on-field act in NFL history. #VontazeBurfict #raiders #nfl pic.twitter.com/qgF2io60uI
— Anthony Leong (@anthonyleong83) September 30, 2019
Meanwhile, in Buffalo, as the Bills and Patriots were duking it out in a classic defensive slugfest, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was the recipient of a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit from Pats defensive back Jonathan Jones that removed Allen from the game. Now, Allen has been placed in concussion protocol. Jones was flagged for the hit, but it was offset by holding on the offense.
The flag was thrown for “unnecessary roughness”, but apparently it wasn’t rough enough to require a booth review such as Burfict’s hit. Allen, as mentioned above, was removed from the game and now is in concussion protocol; Doyle, the recipient of Burfict’s hit, not only finished the game but per Eddie Borsilli, Doyle felt he “just got tackled” and that he’s “sure it looked worse than it was.”
Jonathan Jones will also not receive a suspension but is “being reviewed for a possible fine” per 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Here’s a look at the play.
— Bradley Gelber (@BradleyGelber) September 29, 2019
Down in Los Angeles, as the Rams hosted the Buccaneers, L.A. cornerback Marcus Peters intercepted a pass and prior to crossing the goal line for a touchdown, he was viciously hit from the side by Tampa Bay offensive lineman Donovan Smith. There was no flag on the play and the only reason it was reviewed was that it was a scoring play, so the hit went unacknowledged in the field of play by the officiating crew.
Peters is now in concussion protocol as well.
Here’s a look at the blow.
There was no flag thrown for this hit. pic.twitter.com/DCcWebYd8C
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) September 30, 2019
My third and final example, although there are many more obvious blunders made by officiating crews and league officials, occurred in the Thursday night matchup between the Eagles and Packers. On the first offensive play for Green Bay, running back Jamaal Williams was stood up by Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham but while Williams’ forward progress was halted, defensive end Derek Barnett came in with an aggressive and unnecessary hit.
Williams would end up exiting the game on a stretcher.
Here is the hit.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 27, 2019
The hit earned an unnecessary roughness penalty but Barnett remained in the game and will not be suspended although Jeff Kerr of CBS hints at a likely fine.
If the NFL TRULY wants to take helmet-to-helmet hits seriously, then it’s about time they actually do so. Picking and choosing who the villain will be is only compounding a deadly problem the NFL has been facing as so many of these plays are not given the time of day they should be.
Was Burfict’s hit deserving of a fine and suspension? Absolutely. There’s room for debate as to how much the fine will be or how long the suspension should or shouldn’t be but it is warranted. The last thing I want is readers assuming that because this is a Raiders focused blog that I’m defending one player and pointing the finger at others.
If any finger is being pointed, it’s at Roger Goodell and the officials that pick and choose when and to what extent something will be enforced. If Burfict’s hit was so bad it required a review to clarify if he needed to be ejected, then that needs to be the standard for all NFL games when a flag is thrown for helmet-to-helmet contact, not just an ejection.
The current rule is a bit convoluted as it states, “A player is subject to a possible ejection, reviewable by replay, and to a potential fine or suspension by the league for an egregious violation.” It does not guarantee a review will be made based on the penalty unless it’s an ejection. In that case, per NFL.com, “All ejections will be reviewed by senior officials at the Art McNally game day central in New York City.”
The NFL’s website also notes that there are three criteria for “Ejection Standards”:
- Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet;
- Player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent;
- Contact was clearly avoidable
In the three examples, four including Burfict’s, they all meet the requirements for an ejection. Yet, Burfict was the only player who received an ejection. I can understand how his past plays into his suspension, but as far as the ejections are concerned the NFL must remove this double-standard that has been set.
After flying home from London upon recieving his suspension, Burfict is now in the appeals process which will liely take place sometime next week per Josina Anderson of ESPN.
Please continue this discussion in the comments or with me on Twitter @SportsWithChris because I want to hear your takes and opinions on this issue.