Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Vontaze Burfict and the Less Violent NFL

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterAugust 30, 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 11:  Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts after a defensive play against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In this week's 10-pointer: Vontaze Burfict fails to realize there's a new NFL, Kevin Huber proves punters can be badasses, and we all remember it's not a good idea to head-butt your helmet.

    

1. Violence and the New NFL

Some players get it. Some players don't. Then there's Vontaze Burfict, who is in a category all by himself. 

Flash back to earlier this month. The Bengals were playing Kansas City, and Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman flared out of the backfield, near Burfict. It was a standard route. As Sherman looked back toward the quarterback, Burfict popped Sherman with his shoulder. Sherman was defenseless.

Thirty years ago, this hit would have been applauded. Twenty years ago, it would have. Ten years ago. Hell, five years maybe. But this is a different league in a different era. It's a league struggling to deal with the effects of repeated blows to players' heads and how those hits have long-term impact on the humans that play the sport.

The NFL has overdone trying to protect players. That's a fact. It's a fact some players despise. But this is the new NFL. It's here to stay. It's not going away, and players are slowly starting to digest this truth.

Players except Burfict.

ESPN's Adam Schefter was the first to report that the NFL suspended Burfict for the first five games of the season. Who knows if such a lengthy suspension will survive an appeal. It likely won't.

The NFL is using the suspension not just to punish Burfict but to also send a message to the entire league. The modern NFL is going to be less violent, whether players like it or not.

Burfict is, of course, a unique case. He is, unquestionably, the dirtiest player in football. Really, few players come close. As ESPN reported, in just five years Burfict has been flagged 16 times for unnecessary roughness, personal fouls or roughing the passer. The fine totals for those illegal hits: $800,000.

"I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best," Burfict told Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson. "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.'"

In this NFL, that wasn't a legal hit.

Notice the difference between that hit, where the receiver was defenseless, and this one by Reuben Foster, where the receiver turned to face Foster and was hit hard. Foster's hit was totally within the rules.

What Burfict still doesn't understand, and what coach Marvin Lewis has been unable to impart on him, is that when Burfict is dirty, he hurts his team. Missing games hurts the Bengals.


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Burfict is probably the team's best defensive player, and if this suspension holds, he'll miss games against against Baltimore, Houston, Green Bay, Cleveland and Buffalo.

Not having Burfict for those five games would be devastating for the Cincinnati defense.

The larger message still stands: Cheap shots, hitting a defenseless receiver or anything not deemed appropriate won't be tolerated.

This remains the new NFL. Get used to it.

    

2. The Greatest Move in Punter History

This is the best ever. And I mean ever.

His name is Kevin Huber, and he looked like Allen Iverson in the NBA Finals doing this against Washington in Sunday's preseason game:

This is almost my 30th year covering the league, and I've never seen a punter make a slick move like that.

I can tell you players have been buzzing about it for days. Mainly because they didn't think a punter had those kinds of skills. I think they're only half kidding.

    

3. Is 27 the Lucky Number?

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 26: Quarterback DeShone Kizer #7 of the Cleveland Browns warms up before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on August 26, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. The Browns defeated the Buccaneers 13 to 9. (Photo by Don
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

DeShone Kizer will start for the Browns when the team's season opens next month. He's been solid all preseason and actually has a chance to succeed. He's talented, smart and takes to coaching well.

But his start represents something else. If my math is right (carry the one...subtract two...multiply by six) he'll become the 27th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999. That's almost an impossible feat. I don't believe any franchise comes close.

Here are The Magnificent 27 (please let me know if I missed anyone):

Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey, Brady Quinn, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thaddeus Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III and Kizer.

That is some list.

The Browns continue to be an example—maybe the greatest one—of what happens when a team can't find a franchise quarterback. They haven't even had a competent one in years. It can obliterate a team.

Cleveland's fortunes might now change with Kizer. He has the potential to be that good. At least, we hope so.

    

4. Brock Osweiler's Last Stand...Still

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Last week, I wrote how this year in Cleveland will be quarterback Brock Osweiler's last stand. There's still a chance he can turn things around with the Browns, but when you can't beat out a rookie, well, you're in trouble.

Multiple team sources also said—and this is not a shock—Cleveland has been trying to trade Osweiler for weeks but that there have been no takers. Teams are simply waiting for the Browns to cut Osweiler.

    

5. Jets and Jaguars May Win 3 Games Combined

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Against the Giants last week, Christian Hackenberg threw not one but two pick-sixes. Meanwhile, the Jaguars will start Blake Bortles, who still has no clue how to break down a defense.

Neither franchise has enough talent to compensate for bad quarterback play. Unless something drastically changes, the Jets and Jaguars should be the favorites to pick first and second in the draft next year.

    

6. A Devastating Blow to the Chiefs

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

The team scouts mention to me the most as a sleeper pick to make a deep playoff run is Kansas City. One of the biggest reasons why was Spencer Ware.

Last season, Ware had 921 yards on 214 carries and added 33 catches for 447 more. People who watched him on film said he was far more explosive than anyone realized. They believed Ware was in for a possible 1,500-yard rushing season. They saw him developing this year into one of the top five offensive weapons in the NFL—not just a top-five runner, but a top-five offensive player, period.

Who knows if that was going to happen. What we do know is Ware will likely miss the season with a torn PCL. The Chiefs have weapons across their roster, but Ware was one of the team's biggest.

It won't destroy the Chiefs. They'll still be a good team. But Ware made them special.

    

7. Doesn't Sound Great for Andrew Luck

Aug 13, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA;  Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck watches on the sidelines during a game against the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Chuck Pagano was asked a simple question about Andrew Luck: How does he look throwing the football?

Pagano, according to Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star, gave this incredible answer: "I'm never there to see, so I couldn't tell you."

The head coach is "never there to see" how his franchise quarterback looks? Huh?

The entire question-and-answer session was textbook coachspeak and evasion:

What does it mean? Best guess is that it's highly unlikely Luck will play in the season opener and Pagano is simply trying to avoid saying that.

It also means it's starting to look like Luck could miss more than one game. This doesn't seem good at all.

    

8. The Incredible Power of J.J. Watt

Aug 26, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) warms up before the game against New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

As the images of a flooded Houston began spreading across social media, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt decided to take action.

He posted a crowdsourcing effort for a relief fund to his Twitter account, which had 3.9 million followers as of Tuesday evening. Within two hours, he had raised $137,000 of a $200,000 goal. Part of the initial funds were $100,000 of his own money.

I watched all this in real time and was stunned as the donations rolled in.

He raised the goal to $500,000. That was also reached fairly quickly.

In just over one day, Watt's effort raised approximately $1 million. And then it blew up. By Tuesday night, the goal had been upped to $5 million, and the total amount raised was nearly there.

He is simply incredible.

"I think that it's been an unbelievable display of what can happen when people come together," Watt told reporters after a Texans practice. "... Whether it's $5, whether it's $500, whatever it may be, to see so many people's support, to see so many people send the message, spread the message, it's incredible.

"That's what Houston's all about. It's a very diverse city. It's a very resilient city."

The outpouring showed both the heart and popularity of Watt. It also demonstrated the power of a star's social media platform and how it can be used to change the world.

    

9. Dumbasses, Part I Cabillion

Another game, another group of fans fighting (warning: NSFW language).

Always some jerks that gotta ruin it for everyone else.

Save the fighting for The Avengers.

That's it. That's all.

    

10. Taylor Lewan Head-Butts His Own Helmet

Don't try this at home. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Why in the hell do dudes smash their heads against helmets? Or walls? Or anything else? Don't they smash their heads enough?

Hold on. I just made deadline. Gonna smash my head against my laptop.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.