Gruden, who seemed upset that Burfict’s ejection came from New York instead of the stadium itself on Sunday, told reporters on Wednesday that he was “obviously upset” over Burfict’s suspension. He added that he’d spoken to NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan, who handed down the suspension, to express his displeasure.
“I’m not really going to say anything,” Gruden said. “It hurts our team really bad. And I’m anxious to see what the appeal says. I’m not happy about it — at all.”
The NFL served Burfict with the 12-game ban — plus any postseason games — for repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules after Burfict delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle during the Raiders’ 31-24 victory on Sunday. Burfict was ejected from that contest after the league office reviewed the play. Burfict initially traveled to England with the team but came back to the United States after the suspension was levied.
Burfict plans to appeal the suspension, which reportedly would be heard next week.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Tahir Whitehead both said they believe the length of Burfict’s suspension is unfair.
Whitehead, who will shift to middle linebacker and defensive signal-caller with Burfict’s suspension, said he and Burfict have gotten close since becoming teammates.
“Just understanding and knowing how hard he worked to — with the perception that was out there about him — how hard he worked to not be that guy, that’s frustrating for me to see the penalty that’s been handed down to him,” Whitehead said.
Burfict, Carr and Whitehead are all among the Raiders’ 2019 team captains. Carr called Burfict one of the most misunderstood people in the NFL.
“When he showed up, he quickly turned into one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had,” Carr said. “He’s one of the most genuine, awesome people I’ve ever been around. He’s a great teammate. He works his tail off and he’s a great guy, to be honest with you.”
Carr pointed out that Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey appeared to choke Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday, but he did not get suspended — taking issue with the nature of Burfict’s hit and the severity of the suspension.
“We see other people choking people out and they’re going to play this Sunday,” Carr said. “We see other people hitting people in their helmets, and they’re going to play this Sunday. And Vontaze Burfict won’t play the rest of the year? I think that’s a little excessive if you ask me. I don’t think it’s fair.”
Carr said multiple times that he’s aware of Burfict’s history. According to the league, Burfict’s suspension stems from the repeated violations — not just Sunday’s hit. Burfict has twice been suspended before for his repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules — three games in 2016 and three games in 2017. He’s been flagged 16 times for unnecessary roughness and has been fined nearly $469,119 for those plays, including including $165,482 in 2018 alone.
“I know that he’s had a history in other places, but I think people change,” Carr said. “I don’t think he was trying to hurt that man.”
Carr said the Colts receiver Jack Doyle was starting to go down after being hit by Burfict’s teammate Lamarcus Joyner as Burfict approached. So “obviously you’re going to hit him a little higher than you expected.”
Moving forward, Whitehead said he feels comfortable playing middle linebacker and making the necessary calls and adjustments for the defense.
“I feel extremely confident,” Whitehead said. “It’s just a matter of … getting everyone on the same page.”
Whitehead added that playing the middle allows him to play to his strengths as a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Playing outside, he said, you’re more cut off from certain things because they happen on the opposite side of the field.
“Being in the middle, I think, just gives me more opportunity to make more plays,” Whitehead said.
The Raiders are spending the week in London to acclimate themselves to the time difference before taking on the Bears at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday.