Was it violent? Yes
Was it forceful? Yes
Was it unnecessary? Yes
Was it a penalty? No
Was it illegal? From the video seen, no!
There is no denying that Vontaze Burfict’s on-field reputation as one of the league’s dirtiest players is warranted. Far too often, he is involved in illegal hits and after the whistle activity. Over the first five years in the league, Burfict has been flagged 16 times for unnecessary roughness, suspended 3 games, and fined over $800,000. After being suspended for those three games to start last season following his playoff hit on Antonio Brown, he played under control and dominated football games in the last half of the season. He received just one personal foul and two flags total over his 11 games played. It looked like he turned a corner.
Early this morning, Adam Schefter reported that Burfict was facing a 5 game suspension to start the season for a hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in week two of the preseason. This would be a massive blow to a Bengals defense that is led by the playmaking of Burfict. Anytime a team loses your best player on that side of the ball, it is going to hurt. Past instances where Burfict has missed time has proven that to be especially true of Burfict and the Bengals.
However, the real question with this latest instance is whether that hit was even illegal. You can see the hit here which was posted by @LacesOrFaces on twitter.
The NFL updated the wording on defenseless receivers this offseason. Now included are these three things:
- Give a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection when a defender approaches from behind or the side.
- Forcible contact to the head or neck area or with the crown of the helmet. Once the receiver becomes a blocker, or assumes a blocking posture, he no longer has defenseless player protection.
- Launching fouls when a defender leaves both feet before making forcible contact with any part of his helmet to any part of a defenseless player’s body.
Does the hit on Sherman violate any of these three things?
- Burfict comes straight in to hit Sherman. It is clearly not from the side or back. While the hit may look “blindsided,” that is only the case because Sherman is not looking straight ahead, but rather back at the quarterback. Legal.
- While it may be possible that there is another angle that shows Burfict either hitting the head or neck area of Sherman, it looks clear to me that he is hit in the chest. On top of that, Burfict, without a doubt, leads and hits with his shoulder. All legal.
- Burfict may leave his feet slightly, but hits with his shoulder, not his helmet. Therefore, legal.
If these are the three rules that the NFL is using to justify the suspension, they are mistaken. The hit did not violate any of them.
I completely understand the NFL being harder on repeat offenders, especially Vontaze Burfict. However, even with the rule change, this hit does not warrant a flag (which it did not receive), let alone a suspension. If they are trying to prove a point, this is not the right spot to do it. Does he deserve the benefit of the doubt? No, absolutely not. Does he deserve to get a fair outcome? Absolutely. While he will always be under more scrutiny and a closer eye, the NFL cannot pick and choose which players get punished.
The Bengals issued a statement this morning, stating “The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest. The Club will support Vontaze in the appeal process.” Not only will the club back him, I have to imagine that the NFLPA will put up a fight is well. This is a slippery slope for suspensions. While the officials cannot see everything, this occurred in the middle of the field and was not flagged. Suspending a player for FIVE GAMES on a non-penalized hit is extreme, regardless of the player and their past. I have a hard time believing that the suspension will hold up completely. He may get a few games, but I would be shocked, and appalled, if the NFL decided to keep the entire length of the suspension.