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NFL Suspends Oakland Raider Vontaze Burfict For Rest Of Season Over Head-To-Head Hit

The NFL is suspending Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict without pay for the rest of the 2019 season, after Burfict lowered his head to make helmet-to-helmet contact during a tackle this weekend.

"The discipline marks the longest punishment ever handed down for an on-field act in NFL history," NFL.com says in regard to Burfict, who has repeatedly violated the league's unnecessary roughness rules.

Burfict was ejected Sunday after his hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle, who had just caught a pass in the middle of the field and was partly on the ground when the linebacker lowered the crown of his helmet and plowed into Doyle's head. A suspension seemed certain — but on Monday, the NFL said it has seen enough of Burfict this year.

"There were no mitigating circumstances on this play," Jon Runyan, NFL vice president of football operations, said in a letter to Burfict. "Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided."

Runyan — who had a 14-year NFL career as an offensive tackle before moving into politics and then back to the NFL — noted that he and other officials have repeatedly warned Burfict that he would face increasingly stiff punishments if he continued to break the rules.

"However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk," Runyan said in his letter.

Under the league's labor agreement, players have the right to appeal a suspension within three days; Burfict plans to appeal the punishment, according to NFL.com. The site also notes that Burfict has been either suspended or fined 13 times over his more than seven seasons in the league.

This is Burfict's first season with the Oakland Raiders, having signed a one-year contract to join the team after seven tumultuous years with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Burfict was at the center of an infamous incident in 2016, when he launched himself into the head of wide receiver Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers — a vicious hit that helped to end the Bengals' playoff run, in a wildcard game they had been close to winning.

Brown, who is now without an NFL team amid accusations of sexual assault, was briefly Burfict's teammate in Oakland this year.

Burfict's penchant for breaking his sport's rules dates back to his college career at Arizona State University: He once collected three personal fouls in just one half of a football game.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.