ALAMEDA, Calif. — Raiders middle linebacker, defensive signal-caller and team captain Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season — including any postseason games — for his repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules.
The suspension stems from Burfict’s illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle during the second quarter of the Raiders’ 31-24 victory on Sunday. Multiple officials threw their flags on the play, and Burfict was ejected after the league office reviewed the play in New York.
But as the NFL made clear in its statement, that hit was not the sole reason for Burfict’s 2019 ban.
NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan’s letter to Burfict issuing the suspension read, in part, “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 has previously been suspended twice for violating player safety rules — three games in 2016 and three games in 2017. Burfict’s 2017 suspension was initially five games, but was reduced to three on appeal. He’s also been fined $469,119 for his on-field actions dating back to 2013 — including $165,482 in 2018 alone.
Burfict’s agent, Lamond Smith, told ESPN his client will appeal the 12-game suspension, which is the longest ever for an on-field incident. Smith expects the appeal to be heard next week.
The league announced the suspension just before 9 a.m. Pacific Time on Monday. The Raiders are in London, in preparation for their Week 5 matchup against the Chicago Bears at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Raiders do not plan to comment on the suspension until Wednesday.
Burfict traveled with the team to London. But he is not allowed to practice or participate in football activities while his appeal is pending and is heading home, according to ESPN.
Raiders linebacker Tahir Whitehead , who replaced Burfict as the Raiders’ defensive signal-caller on Sunday, posted his displeasure with the suspension on Twitter.
“This is straight (expletive). No way that hit calls for that. This (expletive) is getting out of hand,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead added in another tweet, “It was not intentional. Doyle was getting up to run and unfortunately he was hit in the head. The ejection from the game should be enough.”
Doyle himself said after the game that he just got tackled, telling reporters, “I’m sure it looked worse than it was. I didn’t really feel anything from it. My helmet protected me.”
But on Monday, Colts coach Frank Reich told reporters he was thankful the league took action.
“When someone does something like that, attacks one of your players, it’s not supposed to be in the game,” Reich said via ESPN, adding that the suspension seemed “very appropriate.”
The Raiders signed Burfict to a one-year contract in March to improve a defense that finished last in points allowed in 2018. Mutual interest existed because Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther had coached Burfict for six years with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden said at the March NFL owners meetings that he was “pounding the table” with Guenther to sign Burfict because “when he’s right, he is a great player and he has proven he can make plays” under Guenther’s coaching.
Upon his signing, Burfict told reporters that he was not a dirty player. Instead, he said, he just plays a physical position.
“I can’t go in there playing patty-cake,” Burfict said. “If I go out there playing patty-cake, then I’m going to be getting run over.”
Since joining the Raiders, Burfict has gained the respect of his teammates and coaches, having been voted a captain for the 2019 season. Even after Sunday’s ejection, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner — a fellow 2019 captain — said Burfict was a positive influence in the locker room at halftime.
But even if Burfict’s suspension is shortened on appeal, the Raiders will likely be without him for an extended period of time. At first glance, Whitehead seems the logical choice to replace Burfict as the defensive signal-caller. He’s performed the task in spot duty over the last couple weeks when Burfict had to exit for an injury and Sunday’s ejection.
The Raiders have four other linebackers on the roster: Nicholas Morrow, Kyler Wilber, Justin Phillips and Dakota Allen. The Raiders signed Phillips from their practice squad and Allen from the Rams’ practice squad last week.
Complicating the matter is that the Raiders are in London for the week, which could be an obstacle if the club were to sign a free agent for the upcoming contest against the Bears. The Raiders do, however, have linebacker Quentin Poling on their practice squad, which is with the team in England.