Before a hearing officer can decide whether a five-game suspension represents the appropriate punishment for Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a hearing officer must decide whether the hit merits any punishment at all.
That’s the real question here. Did Burfict deliver an illegal hit to Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman? He was running a pass route, which this year puts him within the scope of the protections afforded to defense players. Which means that Sherman can’t be struck in the head or neck area.
Was he? Look at the video. While there may have been some minor, incidental contact with Sherman’s facemask, Burfict dropped a shoulder into the chest of Anthony Sherman. The fact that the ball was away doesn’t matter; the punishment doesn’t arise from unnecessary roughness. It flows directly from the notion that Burfict hit Sherman in the head and neck area while he was defenseless.
“I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best,” Burfict told the team’s official website. “I feel like I’ve let down my teammates, but I also feel like I’ve done a good job with this. I only had one personal foul last year. We feel like this was a legal hit. I hit him in the shoulder. I hit hard, so it may have looked like I hit him in the head, but it was the shoulder. I helped him up and he said he was good and I asked if he was good on the next series and he said, ‘Yeah, that was a legal hit.'”
Sherman’s opinion doesn’t matter. Ultimately, the league office’s opinion doesn’t, either. The question here becomes whether the hearing officer believes the hit was illegal. If it wasn’t, there’s no basis for disciplining Burfict at all.