The immediate future of Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett is unknown. When the new league starts in March, Burnett will become a free agent. A list of free agents compiled by NFL.com, he was among the league’s top 25 players who will be free agents.
After 8 years with the Packers, Burnett figures to be in much demand when he hits the open market. It is unclear if the Packers are interested in bringing him back. Obviously it will come down to salary as some reports are out there that he would command $10 million a year salary, and is that something that the Packers want to do.
He is a reliable veteran with experience and versatility. Former defensive coordinator Dom Capers played him at numerous positions the last two seasons including; safety, inside linebacker, and even slot cornerback. He was also the centerpiece of their “Nitro” defensive package. That rare versatility allowed the coaches to utilize other players in different roles and try and get the best 11 players on the field.
With Burnett playing so many positions, it appeared that the safety group lost their leader as the entire group seemed to struggle. Kentrell Brice failed to provide any type of positive impact before he got injured and Ha Ha Clinton Dix seemed out of position and hesitant at times. Ha Ha clearly took a step back and I part of that reason could be because Burnett was tasked with other duties instead of just covering the backend of the defense.
Burnett has the best combined tackling efficiency on the free agent market of any safety. He is a solid run stopper and tackler, something that this teams desperately needs moving forward, and traits that will make extremely desirable to other teams around the league looking to add a 29 year old safety.
Head coach Mike McCarthy praised Burnett numerous throughout the season last year, as he roamed from position to position and battled through injuries. When a player hits the free agent market, he is only worth what is able to demand based on past performance, and that is usually in the eye of the beholder and how teams value their current roster. In this situation, it’s relative to the Packers current safety options and how new general manager Brian Gutekunst decides to construct the roster within the salary cap. Former general manager Ted Thompson planned for Burnett’s upcoming free agency by drafting Josh Jones a year ago.
If Burnett’s market value turns out to be lower than the $10 million that is being reported, I can see McCarthy and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine push to retain him for around $8 million a year. That would only a an increase of $2 million a year which isn’t so hard to swallow.
One thing that can improve the secondary if they bring Burnett back is get him back to being more of a box safety and avoid having him play so many positions, especially where is he has to cover the slot receiver. By doing that allows for players to play in positions they are accustomed to instead of the coaches trying fit a circle peg into a square hole, which has they have been doing for as long as Thompson was GM.
It is now up to general manager Brian Gutekunst to decide if it is worth bringing back the veteran safety at a cost I believe would be around the same as his latest contract – $25 million for 4 years. If not, the early replacement option is Josh Jones. McCarthy probably doesn’t want to lose his veteran safety and one of his top defensive leaders. The Gutekunst era is sure to start in earnest in March.
Anthony Haag is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He has been a Packers fan since the day he was born and truly bleeds green and gold. He makes annual visits to Lambeau Field and has attended his fair share of games. You can follow Anthony on Twitter at @anthony_haag