Vontaze Burfict suspended 3 games for safety violations, will appeal

CINCINNATI -- Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season for repeated violations of player-safety rules, the NFL announced Monday night.

The fourth-year player will appeal, a source told ESPN's Adam Caplan.

In a news release, the league cited Burfict's most recent transgression -- an unnecessary roughness penalty with 22 seconds remaining in Saturday's AFC wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- as the tipping point. On the play, Burfict hit Steelers receiver Antonio Brown after Brown couldn't catch a high pass from Ben Roethlisberger. Brown currently is under the concussion protocol because of the hit.

NFL vice president of football operations Merton Hanks imposed the suspension. Hanks' ruling was that Burfict's action "placed his opponent at unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided."

If the ban is upheld, it will cost Burfict $502,941 of his 2016 base salary, and he will have forfeited $647,395 since just before the 2014 season, when he signed a four-year, $20 million contract extension.

Burfict wasn't present Monday during an open interview session while Bengals players were cleaning out their lockers.

Coach Marvin Lewis said during a news conference early in the day that he didn't think Burfict ever went over the edge during the season.

"He can't have that kind of blow with the guy that's receiving the pass," Lewis said. "But it didn't go over the edge for the course of the season. He's had three penalties this season for unnecessary roughness. ... Let's not take things out of context, and understand it. Let's judge the body of work."

Lewis did acknowledge the negative reputation Burfict has earned for his style of play.

"Unfortunately, we earned some reputations, and we have to eliminate that by continuing to play well within the rules, with the way he plays," Lewis said. "And he plays very well within the rules, and we have to keep doing that."

Burfict was the most heavily fined player in the chippy Dec. 13 meeting between the Bengals and Steelers. Seven players from the teams drew fines amounting to nearly $140,000, but Burfict had to pay nearly half that in three fines for three incidents during the game. Burfict also played a role in a pregame scuffle between the teams at midfield. No penalties were levied for that fracas.

According to the NFL, Burfict was also fined $50,000 for "unnecessarily contacting an opponent who was out of the play" against the Baltimore Ravens in the season finale. That occurred six days before Saturday's wild-card game against the Steelers.

The NFL said the conduct of other players and coaches in Saturday's game is being reviewed for potential discipline.

Cincinnati defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, whom Burfict took to the Pro Bowl in 2013, when he made it to that game for the first time, said he believes his player feels remorse over the way Saturday's game ended. Burfict's penalty, along with one from Adam Jones during an injury timeout, led to the Bengals' being slapped with 30 yards in penalties before a 35-yard chip shot gave the Steelers an 18-16 win.

"I'm sure he feels bad about it," Guenther said. "He's hurting right now. Everyone's hurting. Everyone's feeling bad about this game because we had it won."

Guenther and others around the team, including Jones, said they believe Burfict was trying to avoid improperly striking Brown in the head.

"Go back, and look at the play," Jones said Monday morning on the Dan Patrick Show. "If you go back and slow-motion play, you tell me that Vontaze hit him in the head, or did his shoulder pads barely touch him?"

Burfict had 74 tackles and two key interceptions in 10 regular-season games. On Saturday, he had six tackles, a forced fumble, a sack that turned the game's momentum briefly in Cincinnati's favor and an interception that would have won the game with 1:36 remaining, had Bengals running back Jeremy Hill not fumbled to give the Steelers one last chance to win.

"The main thing is that you learn something from it," Guenther said. "We have to get something out of this. Otherwise, it just turns into a waste. We've got to have better poise under pressure."

Burfict's suspension is the third issued by the NFL for an on-field incident this season. The New York Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. got a one-game ban for three unnecessary roughness penalties against the Carolina Panthers, and the Denver Broncos' Aqib Talib drew a one-game ban for poking the Indianapolis Colts' Dwayne Allen in the eye.

The longest suspension the NFL has issued for on-field conduct was five games. Albert Haynesworth, then with the Tennessee Titans, was banned five games in 2006 for knocking off Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode's helmet and then kicking and stomping on Gurode's face.

In 2013, Antonio Smith, then with the Houston Texans, was suspended three games (two preseason and one regular-season) for removing Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito's helmet and swinging it at his face when the two got into an altercation during a preseason game.

Information from ESPN's Field Yates, Jamison Hensley and Stats & Information was used in this report.