Firmly in the realm of ‘Tell us how you really feel’, Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther let it fly today when asked about his now former middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict being suspended the remainder of the year.
“I think it was a witch hunt from the beginning quite honestly,” Guenther said of the punishment. “Somebody in the league didn’t want him playing football and they got what they wanted.”
The hit that drew the flag on Burfict was right out of the leading-with-the-helmet NFL infraction handbook. There was no question it was going to be flagged, and likely would lead to a fine as well. The question was whether it would be deemed worthy of an ejection. After review, they ruled it egregious enough to lead to Burfict’s ejection. And with Burfict’s history, the league came down even harder on him, suspending Burfict for the remainder of the season.
This is Burfict’s 14th personal foul in his just over 7 NFL seasons. Prior to this, he’d been suspended twice for such hits and dirty play. The first time for three games and the second time for five games, reduced to three after appeal. In 2018 he was fined twice for unnecessary roughness.
Guenther and Burfict go way back. Last year was the first time in seven seasons the two were not coach and player on the same defense. So, you can understand Guenther feels strongly about Burfict and cares about him. He knows this is probably it for Burfict as no team is going to sign him knowing his playing style and how one false move and he’s done.
But above and beyond that, it’s the lack of clearly defined punishments that frustrates Guenther. Also, he no doubt feels responsible because he went to bat for Burfict to come to the Raiders only to see him last into his fourth game before his time in Oakland came to an abrupt end.
“Does it make any sense to sign a guy [knowing] after one infraction he’s going to get thrown out of the league for a year? No, it doesn’t. I think it’s very unfair, it’s unfair to our team, it’s unfair to Vontaze,” Guenther continued.
“There’s no standard there. That’s the issue I had. There’s nothing that [says] ‘Hey, next time you do this, you’re done for the year. Maybe your career.’ You can warn a guy, but if you put that in writing ‘The next time this happens, you’re done’ that’s where I have a problem.”
Guenther went on to say the Raiders are “going to keep a close eye to make sure that everybody is being held to the same standard as Vontaze was.”
But what standard is that, exactly?
Guenther’s obviously pretty angry about this. He has some grounds to be. After all, a season ending suspension is probably harsher than anyone expected. That being said, he was Burfict’s coach the other two times he saw escalating suspensions for 11 different infractions. He can’t be too shocked Burfict wasn’t treated like any other player. He’s more of a repeat offender than the rest of the league by a considerable margin. Unfair or not, he is simply not going to be treated the same way. And by no means should his punishment be the same as a player who has had one or two such incidents.
No one wants to see a player’s career end at 29 years of age. It happens a lot in this league. Usually through things like injuries which are completely out of that player’s control. And just like signing a player who is deemed injury prone, the Raiders knew the risk in signing Burfict to lead their defense.
Now, they must move on. Tahir Whitehead moves over to middle linebacker and Nicholas Morrow gets his shot. Maybe next offseason they can make some more sound investments in the linebacker position than they have in recent years.