Never thought I’d be in a position to defend Vontaze Burfict. Derek Carr already said he is a good dude and heartbroken over the suspension. Jon Gruden doesn’t want to talk about it because he is so mad. The Athletic even tried to dig dirt on Burfict but found little.
Playing against Burfict in High School, he was a man amongst boys. I remember hearing stories about things he did in middle school and pickup games. Then I saw the Corona Centennial game tape and Burfict was faster and stronger than everyone else, myself included. He caught people slipping around the whistle and found any reason to celebrate with his helmet off. That’s all good, we were kids. Burfict and his team could get away with it because they were winning titles.
Then he left for ASU and got 22 personal fouls in 37 games. Burfict left for the league and built a reputation with the Bengals by getting four suspensions or ejections between 2016-18 as well as 13 fines in seven seasons. His latest suspension for the season allegedly took all this in account.
Obviously, this sucks for the Raiders as Burfict was noticeably quiet all offseason. Burfict is a captain, he broke up the infamous Antonio Brown and Mike Mayock altercation and he helped the defense look serviceable at times.
Take the Raiders out of it and the suspension still doesn’t look right. Burfict’s latest hit on Jack Doyle barely even makes his highlight for personal fouls.
Well Burfict does lower his head and it is unnecessary considering he could’ve tagged Doyle down, let’s not act like Doyle went down and protected himself. The Colts TE got up and tried to run again. Burfict is paid because he is an enforcer not a cover man in those exact situations.
The NFL’s New Culture
You can look at it frame to frame and breakdown whether Burfict intended to hit with the shoulder. That’s easy to do in retrospect but hard to do in real life. Burfict been playing the game a certain way for so long, how can you expect him or anyone else to completely change their style so fast?
Not only was the individual hit not that bad but the NFL shouldn’t give someone a suspension for their life’s work. That’s like giving someone ten years for robbery cause they beat a murder charge, wait never mind.
Nonetheless, the league has barely even acknowledged a connection between head injuries and football for a decade. NFL linebackers were bred like Burfict for decades. It’s a different time now but coaches and players made that culture.
Now, the league is playing catch up by reprimanding every player who even looks to hit with their head or unnecessarily. Burfict is caught in a crossfire of culture change.
Even lumped in with his resume, that hit on Doyle isn’t that bad because it is a football play. A football played made by dozens of linebackers for decades. This wasn’t Doyle half way out of bounds or after the whistle. He wasn’t out cold.
Besides, who is the league to determine anyone’s morality? We all know their own questionable ethical compass so let’s not give the league a gold star for trying to make an example out of Burfict.
You don’t want violence or aggression on the game than maybe pivot to flags. Saying people like Burfict who play, hit and speak like Burfict do not belong in the game is a bold lie when this style isn’t new or dying. They might be going extinct or tapering off but that doesn’t mean that culture is completely gone. This league stance is also super hypocritical to people like me who remember “Jacked Up” segments and all the highlight hits.
Sure, Burfict reputation is real. Sure, the league is changing. Still, the one hit on Doyle shouldn’t be the tipping point that cost Burfict the remainder of his first season with the Raiders. Give him a few games or a fine but suspending him isn’t going to rehabilitate a 29-year-old linebacker who played the game like that forever.
None of us should pity Burfict, but that still doesn’t mean he deserved this suspension. Well, to be determined in appeals, I guess.