ALAMEDA, Calif. — Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s suspension has been upheld on appeal, meaning he will be suspended for the rest of the 2019 season, including the postseason.
Burfict’s appeal was heard by the NFL on Tuesday, and the decision was announced Wednesday. He was ejected in the second quarter of the Raiders’ 31-24 victory Sept. 29 at the Indianapolis Colts for a helmet-to-helmet hit on tight end Jack Doyle.
This was an unprecedented situation, as it’s the longest suspension for an on-field act in modern league history. The previous longest was former defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth’s five games in 2006 for stomping on an opponent.
But there never has been an individual with Burfict’s history of fines and suspensions for violating player safety rules. He has been flagged 15 times for unnecessary roughness — the most for a player since Burfict entered the league in 2012. That number goes up to 23 including infractions for roughing the passer, personal fouls, face masks and disqualifications.
After returning from London, Raiders coach Jon Gruden said he expected Burfict would be back with the team sooner than later.
“He’s already been punished, and we hope he can return to playing soon,” Gruden said.
But Derrick Brooks, a Hall of Fame linebacker who served as the NFL/NFLPA’s jointly appointed appeals officer, decided that Burfict’s season-long ban was appropriate.
According to a report from ESPN, Gruden and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr spoke for Burfict during the appeals process, but the linebacker mainly spoke for himself. Burfict’s defense reportedly centered on the fact that he had gone more than 190 plays without being flagged and that the hit on Doyle was not intentional. The Raiders also reportedly said they thought the suspension was prejudicial against their club, and the Burfict has been a model player and teammate.
This is Burfict’s fourth suspension and third for a violation of unnecessary roughness rules. He was suspended three games in 2016 and had a five-game suspension reduced to three games in 2017. He was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs in 2018.
Burfict had been signed to help improve a Raiders defense that finished last in points allowed last season. His familiarity with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and his scheme was a significant factor in the Raiders’ interest. Guenther coached Burfict from 2012 to 2017 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Without Burfict, the Raiders probably will continue to play linebacker Tahir Whitehead as his replacement. Whitehead played middle linebacker and called defensive signals Sunday in a 24-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in London. With the Raiders primarily playing only two linebackers, Nicholas Morrow was on the field for 97 percent of the defensive snaps.
The Raiders probably will continue to primarily play two linebackers for the next few weeks because their next two opponents — the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans — utilize a lot of three wide receiver sets.