Vontaze Burfict is sitting on strike two, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is eager to see what he will do next.
Will the Pro Bowl Cincinnati Bengals linebacker alter the borderline style of play that earned him a three-game suspension at the start of next season, or will he continue to play in a way the league considers detrimental to the health and safety of other players?
That's the big question Burfict has to answer for himself.
Sources told ESPN's Dan Graziano that Burfict's appeal of the three-game ban was heard Thursday and upheld by league appeals officer Derrick Brooks.
Accompanied by his agent and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Burfict met separately with Goodell at the league offices, Graziano reported. It was a meeting Burfict had coordinated to help get Goodell, NFL executive VP Troy Vincent and Brooks to reduce or rescind the three-game ban he was given last month for repeated player-safety violations.
Burfict hit Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the head late in the Bengals' wild-card round playoff loss to Pittsburgh. The ensuing 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, which precipitated another foul called on Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, pushed Pittsburgh into chip-shot field goal range. With less than 20 seconds remaining, the Steelers made the go-ahead field goal that was the game-winner.
Burfict's unnecessary roughness penalty was the 16th personal foul infraction he has been given since he entered the league in 2012.
By upholding the three-game ban, the NFL sent a message that it demands he display better respect for his opponents, even if he doesn't feel they have it for him.
While Burfict considers how to respond to the league's suspension, the Bengals must plan to be without him once again. If free agency goes appropriately, they should be just fine in that regard.
Burfict's suspension gives the organization added incentive to bring back veteran linebacker Vincent Rey, a valued backup who filled in admirably at the start of the 2015 season when Burfict missed six games while he recovered from a 2014 knee injury. Once Burfict returned, Rey reverted back to reserve status, but still was on the field regularly. Rey's 98 tackles led all Bengals defenders.
Burfict and Lewis have to consider the gravity of the situation the linebacker is now facing. The NFL basically told him Thursday it wouldn't tolerate his borderline style of play. Any more groin punches (against Green Bay, 2013), post-play ankle-twisting (against Carolina, 2014), or hitting defenseless players away from the football (against Ravens, 2015) or the like, and he's facing a much steeper punishment.
It's up to Burfict to comply.