The reported Burfict suspension is drawing plenty of attention on Monday morning, with folks wondering whether he actually hit Sherman illegally.
In fact, it's a new NFL rule that's being used to penalize Burfict,. This offseason, the NFL made it a rule that any running back or wide receiver or tight end running a receiving route would be considered in a defenseless position.
That is clearly the case with Sherman during the play in question.
Here is the wording from Article 7, Section a, part 2 where the league lists players who qualify as defenseless: A receiver running a pass route when the defender approaches from the side or behind. If the receiver becomes a blocker or assumes a blocking posture, he is no longer a defenseless player.
Sherman clearly meets the qualifications as someone who is running a pass route and Burfict pretty clearly approaches him from the side. Smith has already released the ball and Burfict (top right) isn't thinking about anything other than putting Sherman in the ground.
Burfict is apparently planning to appeal the five-game suspension and will likely argue he was not approaching Sherman from the side. Again, Smith has released the ball and Burfict is about to crush Sherman.
So you have a clear case of Sherman running a route and acting like a receiver and a pretty clear case of Burfict approaching from the side. Burfict could argue that he did not strike Sherman in the head or neck area, but it might be irrelevant given the wording of the NFL's rulebook.
There is no doubt that the contact was unnecessary. Smith had released the ball, Sherman was not catching the ball and Sherman was not going to be involved in the play. Also, it was the preseason Week 2. It was incredibly unnecessary.
Ten years ago this hit is perfectly legal and probably lands on "JACKED UP" this coming Monday. But in 2017, Burfict, who is such an aggressive defender that, violated an NFL rule and initiated unnecessary contact on a defenseless receiver.
The five-game suspension is a bit stiff, but this is a repeat offender who has racked up roughly one million dollars in fines over the course of his career. The league is trying to send a message and make sure players follow the rules designed to keep other players safe.
Burfict clearly did not and now he is going to face punishment.