WATFORD, England – The Raiders are fuming over the NFL’s decision to suspend linebacker Vontaze Burfict the rest of this season.
They believe it’s simply unjust, and had no problem saying so in their first public comments since the NFL shut him down over an illegal hit in Sunday’s victory over Indianapolis.
Make no mistake: The punishment was more about Burfict’s reputation as a dirty player than the hit itself. The Raiders were also pissed that the league didn’t let them know a season-long ban was even a possibility. They were taken aback when ESPN first reported that was being considered, and flummoxed that such an action was taken.
Head coach Jon Gruden voiced his displeasure in a conversation with NFL official Jon Runyan, who lowered the boom.
Gruden didn’t elaborate much on the issue, but was clearly seething at the notion of losing his middle linebacker.
“I’m not going to really say anything,” Gruden said Wednesday. “I talked to Runyan in the league office, he knows how I feel. It hurts our team really bad and I’m anxious to see what the appeal says. I’m not happy about it at all and I don’t want to say anything else. I’m obviously upset about it.”
Burfict was on the team flight to London, but has headed home. He will appeal the ruling next week.
The Raiders are hoping the suspension lessens significantly, and Burfict could have a case for leniency. This 12-game ban is the longest ever for an on-field infraction.
Raiders players stuck up for their captain and defensive field general, saying he wasn’t the vicious aggressor he’s notorious for being.
Quarterback Derek Carr, who always toes the company line and gives at times politically correct answers, was passionate and vocal in Burfict’s defense.
“The hard thing for me to understand is we say we are all about people, but sometimes we don’t get to know people,” Carr said. “I think he’s one of the most misunderstood people in the NFL. I didn’t know anything about him except what some friends who are from L.A. and played high school football with him told me. And when he showed up, he quickly turned into one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had. He’s one of the most genuine, awesome people I’ve ever been around. He’s a great teammate, he works his tail off and he’s a great guy to be honest with you. I know that he’s had history at places, but I think people change.”
The NFL didn’t believe that to be the case, especially after he lowered his head to hit tight end Jack Doyle as he was getting up to run. It looked like an intentional helmet-to-helmet hit. That’s something Burfict has done before, but Carr and other Raiders teammates insistent he wasn’t trying to inflict unnecessary harm.
“I don’t think he was trying to hurt that man,” Carr said. “That man was going down, you see it all the time. There are flags flying everywhere, but if we think about football, the guy caught it here and he’s already going to hit him and he’s starting to go down. Obviously, you are going to hit him a little higher than you expected. We see other people choking people out and they’re going to play this Sunday. We see people hitting people in the helmets and they’re going to play this Sunday, and Vontaze Burfict won’t play the rest of the year. I think that’s a little excessive if you ask me.”
That was the general feeling around the Raiders today. They believed a suspension was certainly possible, but not something like this.
Burfict, too, was caught off guard and is extremely disappointed with such a prolonged suspension.
“He’s a great person, his heart is broken because he’s not playing football,” Carr said. “The guy just wants to play football. We don’t get a lot of time to play this game in our lives. Some of us don’t get a lot of years to do this. I’ve broken many of bones, I’m sure he’s had plenty of injuries, so to end it for something like that for a whole season, it puts another year on your legs. There’s a lot that goes into that, and that I guess we just throw out the window. I know the history situation and all that kind of stuff, but this one, especially with what went on during the week, if we are going to fair, we need to be fair with everybody.”