Vontaze Burfict had been set to serve a five-game suspension after what the league deemed an illegal hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman, when Sherman was ruled to have been a defenseless player.
Here’s the hit in question:
This is the hit that the NFL is suspending Vontaze Burfict 5 games for. pic.twitter.com/Xiyab0kdrC
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) August 28, 2017
Watching that, you can see where the league is coming from, even though the rule they applied is actually a new one, per Adam Schefter:
Burfict, a repeat offender, hit a running back in a defenseless posture, per sources. It is a new rule the NFL is implementing this season to protect the player who can’t protect himself – and it is going to hurt Burfict and the Bengals.
Burfict is appealing, per sources.
…Burfict has a hearing next week with the NFL, per sources.
Burfict did indeed appeal, and the league office responded by reducing the suspension from five games to three games. What’s fascinating, though, is that in their ruling, NFL executive Jon Runyan didn’t hold back from pointing out the various previous incidents on Burfict’s record that likely led to the stiffness of the original punishment:
The league confirmed the three-game suspension, with Jon Runyan, the NFL’s Vice President of Football Operations, writing to Burfict:
“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 ball 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.”
That’s a pretty strong condemnation to receive from an appeal you won, which leads to this question: why did the NFL reduce the suspension at all? He’s been suspended twice previously while also being fined a total of $800,000 for 16 unnecessary roughness penalties. Why do NFL appeals always seem to work? Their disciplinary policy seems to be the equivalent of buying something one size up with the assumption it will shrink in the wash.
Is it just that the league wants to come down hard initially, assuming that headline is what people will most remember, before backing off so as to not anger any one team too much?
Burfict’s only real defense here is that the rule is a new one; in prior years, that back was fair game, even though it’s entirely incidental to the play with the ball being thrown downfield. It’s a good rule, too; what he did shouldn’t be legal. And three games isn’t nothing. But what happens if/when (likely when) Burfict does something similar? Does that mean eight games reduced to four on appeal? What’s the point?