Well, that one walked down Broadway with a sign around its neck that read in giant red letters, “YOU KNOW HOW THIS ENDS!”
Vontaze Burfict came, he hit a guy in the head as hard as he could, and now he went. That’s so perfectly Burfict, and so perfectly Raider. Perfectly Burfict because he cannot be the guy who adapts to the new, slightly-less maliciously concussive version of football, so he has decided not to be. And perfectly Raider because they never take a chance that doesn’t blow up in their faces, Wile E. Coyote-style.
Burfict took a skull shot at Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle because, well, because Doyle had committed the effrontery of having a head. Jon Gruden signed Burfict because he thought he could change him, but only just a little. And it all ended the way it was destined to because there are certain unchanging truths in life; in this case, Burfict is to gratuitous head shots as the Raiders are to bad signings. They both know better, but they are who they are. It brought back the rash/rampant speculation that his hit on Antonio Brown somehow unhinged Brown to a point where he was no longer considered employable, and though nobody with an actual medical degree has suggested that such a thing is likely, it doesn’t stop vacuums like internet chat from being filled.
There aren’t a lot of confusing signals here to decipher either. Burfict was dealing in his usual irony—the easy target taking advantage of an easy target. The Raiders were as well—the team that takes poorly calculated chances because the well-calculated ones aren’t going there of their own free will. After all, Gruden loved Burfict when he became a Raider, while general manager/human shield Mike Mayock declared him “non-draftable” back in 2012. This is just one more example of left and right hands knowing nothing about the existence of the other.
And the NFL had the easiest job of all—punishing a player with no real argument with the works.
It wasn’t even an important play upon which Burfict skulled Doyle—the end of a five-yard pass play at a time when the Raiders were up two touchdowns. Even his blowing kisses to the crowd as he left the field wasn’t worth the bother. But he did, as he has done so often before, and the NFL did what it has done so often before.
Whether 12 games is excessive or sufficient is no longer the point. It will probably be appealed down because it is more than twice as long than the longest previous excessive force suspension of five games, which Burfict shares with Albert Haynesworth, but it doesn’t matter. He will almost certainly do this again the next chance he gets because clocking guys with unnecessary force is the only thing that separates him from the other 125-some-odd linebackers in the league. He has averaged almost two suspensions per year (14 in eight, plus three games) since being drafted by Cincinnati, and even though only three were for excessive hits, the NFL did what sports leagues do—punishing in part based on the miscreant’s PITA score. Burfict is the guy too big for the law to hold him, so his neck becomes the easiest upon which to step.
But like we said, we know how this ends. Burfict will almost surely be back before season’s end, and he’ll probably spot a fresh head worth taking a shot at. The smart money says he’ll be reckless one final time because he has a reputation to downhold, and the Raiders under Jon Gruden will keep working fished-out ponds in hopes that there’s still one last miscreant who can draw within the lines. As for the NFL, it (not Roger Goodell, who is in the commissioner protection program) will have to explain why this suspension got reduced rather than upheld, and eventually it will give up adjudicating anything other than media and labor deals, as Scrooge McDuck intended.
And the lesson in the end will be that change is hard, especially when you choose not only not to learn from past mistakes, but embrace them as a monetizable celebrity brand.
Ray Ratto sees Burfict’s return in Week 13. The Kansas City Chiefs are duly warned.