When it was reported last week that the Green Bay Packers and safety Morgan Burnett were working on a long-term contract extension, the news seemed to catch observers by surprise.
The comments on social media wondered why Burnett would be first in line to get an extension when other, higher-profile players such as defensive lineman B.J. Raji and wide receiver James Jones were also entering the final year of their contracts in 2013.
If the figures first reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network are accurate, Burnett received a four-year, $24.75 million extension presumably tacked onto the final year remaining on his rookie contract.
Assuming the final year of Burnett’s 2013 salary of $1.323 million wasn’t restructured, he’ll be making an average of $5.215 million per season, which would place him just outside the top ten highest-paid safeties in the NFL, according to Spotrac.com.
Burnett’s new average pay per season would also make him the ninth highest-paid player on the Packers roster, again according to Spotrac.com.
The reality is Burnett didn’t break the bank. He received roughly market value for a promising young safety that’s played well in his first three seasons in professional football, but not quite at an elite level.
ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required) had Burnett rated as the 16th best safety in the NFL last season, although he was ranked fifth in the league in their run stop percentage metric and 13th in their tackling efficiency metric.
The stats show Burnett has made major strides in his tackling and the contributions he makes towards the Packers run defense, but he’s still slightly behind the curve in his pass coverage despite seven career interceptions (including playoffs).
At just 24 years old, there’s reason to believe Burnett will continue to make strides, just as former Packers safeties LeRoy Butler, Darren Sharper and Nick Collins all did in their fourth seasons in the NFL and beyond.
Should it be the case that Burnett keeps improving and becomes a Pro Bowl or All-Pro caliber player, the Packers will have gotten a relative steal.
Had Burnett waited until after the 2013 season to negotiate a new contract, it’s possible he could have commanded a much larger deal with a big year. But Burnett and his agent could see the writing on the wall.
There are a plethora of Packers players whose contract are expiring following the 2013 season. Beyond Raji and Jones, there’s Sam Shields, Jermichael Finley, Evan Dietrich-Smith, John Kuhn, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, Andrew Quarless, Marshall Newhouse and C.J. Wilson.
The Packers will be able to re-sign a majority of those players, but likely not all of them.
In essence, Burnett accepted the security of a long-term deal before the well dries up.
Because he came out of college as an underclassman, Burnett still has more earning power ahead of him. He’ll be under team control through the 2017 season, at which point he’ll be 29 years old.
There’s still at least one more opportunity for Burnett to receive another lucrative contract. Whether or not he does will depend on his play. He’s going to have to earn it.