After eight seasons in the NFL, strong safety Morgan Burnett has a big decision to make.
And so do the Green Bay Packers.
The 29-year-old Burnett is a free agent this offseason, and is rumored to be commanding somewhere around $10 million per season. Meanwhile, the Packers are looking to shed cap to save money for Aaron Rodgers’ well deserved max contract in 2019 after signing Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson.
But the ridiculous dollar amounts for quarterbacks over the past few years keep coming, making Packers fans cringe. Jimmy Garoppolo started five games last season for the 49ers and was given just over $137 million recently, while the Vikings just signed Kirk Cousins to a guaranteed three year 84 million dollar contract.
Cutting contracts has to start now for the Packers, and this process begins with Burnett. The veterans play has begun to diminish on the field over the past couple seasons, and injuries have plagued him making him expendable this offseason.
Burnett hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2012, and missed a total of 10 games over the past three seasons due to various injuries. When he has been healthy, number 42 has shown he can be a difference maker, as he logged over 60 tackles each season from 2011-2014 — including 105 in 2015.
But over the past three seasons Burnett has only logged two interceptions while averaging 54 tackles, a number that needs to go up for the Packers to thrive on defense.
As Burnett takes the offseason to think about where he would like to play in 2018, Packers backup safeties Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice wait in the wings for an opportunity.
Jones, a rookie in 2017 logged 71 tackles, two sacks, and one interception — making the most of every opportunity he got. Not only did the second round pick show potential in the secondary, but when given the opportunity he also flourished in Dom Caper nitro nickel-package. In the two games Jones started for Burnett he logged 12 and 8 tackles respectively.
Brice, a two year safety for the Packers was originally noticed as a special teams player in 2016. Due to injuries around him the then 22 year old was thrown into the fire to play a mix of nickelback and safety. In four starts Brice has shown plenty of ability, and given a larger workload could surprise many.
Darren Perry, the Packers safeties coach in 2017 had nothing but praise for Brice’s tackling ability that he has shown in practice and limited gameplay over the past two seasons.
“Last year we always used to joke a little bit about his weight because he wasn’t a big guy, but he was explosive, and he was powerful,” Perry said. “Pound for pound, he was probably our most explosive hitter, but this year, you can see he’s a little thicker in his build.”
With Brice, Jones, and plenty of other options available through the draft or even in free agency, the need to give Burnett a sizeable contract in my opinion is not worth it.
When healthy, Burnett has shown he can be a top 12 safety in the league with his defensive play calling ability, tackling, and ball skills. However, if you look at the history of Green Bay packers safeties, its apparent that the team has not had issues finding and developing talent at the position.
From Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, to Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, and even Darren Sharper, the names aren’t huge — but they were solid contributors to defenses that statistically struggled.
Yes Morgan Burnett is a great player and defensive leader, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will thrive at safety for whatever team pays him. But if you are asking me, I think the Packers would be wise to save or spend the money elsewhere.