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Morgan Burnett’s Contract with Steelers Indicates Packers Let Him Walk

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Morgan Burnett’s Contract with Steelers Indicates Packers Let Him Walk

The details of Morgan Burnett’s new contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers came out early afternoon, and it’s probably safe to say the deal is cheaper than what one might have expected Burnett to go for before the start of free agency.

According to Ian Rappoport, Burnett’s deal with Pittsburgh is worth $14.5 million over three years—an average of less than $5 million per year.

Josh Jones now becomes the de facto starter at the strong safety position. Jones flashed some athleticism and versatility in 2017, but was also occasionally exposed as a liability in coverage.

This is not necessarily damning of Jones’s capabilities—almost all defensive backs experience struggles adjusting to the speed of the NFL game early in their careers, especially in pass coverage. However, the Packers will definitely miss Burnett’s starting experience in the defensive backfield, which continues to take hit after hit this offseason.

The deal Burnett signed with Pittsburgh was definitely not out of the Packers’ price range. Considering the dearth of experience left in the secondary without Burnett, it is logical to infer the Packers no longer had plans for Burnett in their defense.

The role Jones played in 2017 was essentially exactly the same one Burnett played, so the Packers have clearly been preparing for Burnett’s departure. If Jones is able to live up to the potential he flashed at times in 2017, the Packers could have their starting strong safety for years to come on the team already. But obviously, the progress Jones makes still remains to be seen.

What is clear with the jettisoning of Damarious Randall and the departure of Burnett is that the Packers are embracing a rebuild of the secondary. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has almost certainly had a role in the decision making processes with these two players, and for one reason or another determined they were unnecessary in his plans for the defense moving forward.

Clearly, the Packers need more help in the secondary. And with the veteran free agent market rapidly thinning, Packer fans online have already begun voicing their displeasure with General Manager Brian Gutekunst’s approach to the defensive backfield this offseason.

That being said, it’s still far too early to make any judgments about the positions for the 2018 season. There’s still the draft, still some free agents left and still the ability to make trades. Plus, it remains to be seen how much players like Jones, Kevin King and Lenzy Pipkins have progressed going into their next season.

This offseason has given Packers fans their first taste of uncertainty and instability in many years. But even as another long-time Packers starter signs a deal with a different team, the time to panic has not arrived. In fact, it’s not even close.


Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (53) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Minniman's picture

Well that answers my posted questions on the Davon House article -

1) yes they do believe that they want to see how high the ceiling is on the rookies already drafted

2) yes they are going to go dumpster-diving in FA at some point to bolster these ranks

3) yes they do believe that a low ranked rookie secondary is still the same as a low ranked veteran one --> only cheaper

GBPDAN1's picture

A part of me is ok with letting Burnett and Randall go as our secondary has been under performing and needs upgrades. I'm just puzzled that some secondary players that hit the market didn't get signed with the Pack. I'm not talking about the high dollar guys, but the quality guys who were reasonably priced.

The Fuller offer was just an exercise as the Bears easily and immediately matched.

Now we have a FA market with mostly table scraps left. So, to get quality secondary players, we either need to draft them or trade for them. Drafting provides a rookie with no NFL experience that may take time to develop and trading means giving away draft picks, or players, or both, which is not ideal. Most teams have already jettisoned their over priced veterans or have addressed their cap burdened players. Teams at this point in FA have retained players they want to keep. So, it seams trading will come at a premium.

I'm most certainly not giving up on Gut as there's a lot of time between now and training camp and I'm still happy TT is no longer GM. But, part of me thinks for 1M or so that Randall was making, and for less than 5M that Burnett cost on his new deal, they seemed like good insurance policies ?

If Burnett and Randall were locker room cancers, then good riddance. Lombardi wouldn't put up with that kind of BS and neither should our current team. So at this point, us Packer fans need to sit and hope for the best. This current secondary has plenty of question marks.

flackcatcher's picture

Burnett was never the problem, like most veterans, age, injuries, and change caught up to him. Steelers got a good player who can help bring stability their secondary on the cheap. That's the way it is in today's NFL. In truth, the Packers had no choice but to do a total tear down and rebuild of the secondary. After the Vikings game, the Packers secondary was wiped out. As in smoking giant hole in the ground wiped out. At one point, the Packers only had four healthy players in that group. Simply unreal. I would not be surprised if the Packers kept King and Jones and released everyone else (including Dix). After what went on in the locker room and the field, I bet most of the returning players are expendable.

Finwiz's picture

Wouldn't be a surprise at all.

"Giant smoking hole in the ground".....yeah, it was THAT bad.

Wish it was July!

HankScorpio's picture

"I'm just puzzled that some secondary players that hit the market didn't get signed with the Pack. I'm not talking about the high dollar guys, but the quality guys who were reasonably priced."

There have not been much of that at all. Guys that have signed reasonably priced deals don't really merit the term "quality guys". Heck, I'm not sure any of the CBs on the FA market are quality guys. All of them have warts of one type or another. The signed deals that are closest to reasonable price in often cases can be traced to things other than money, like a guy staying put or going back to a previous team.

There is still plenty of names available. None of them are going to be confused with "lockdown corners" but they can slot in higher than most of the 6 best CBs on the Packers current roster. And they can probably be signed to contracts that are in line with their value on the field.

AgrippaLII's picture

But the biggest question of all...Do they want to play in Green Bay?

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Right now the Packers and how they are handling the Secondary reminds me of those people in college who where always single because they where unwilling to date anybody who was "within their means".

HankScorpio's picture

Today begins the 2nd week of FA, where the term "only fools rush in" fits a lot more than it doesn't.

Lare's picture

At this point, I wonder if they should also go ahead and get rid of HHCD. Frankly, him giving up on the team and his teammates last season was inexcusable in my opinion. It also makes me wonder if he was truly giving 100% through the whole season.

Might just be time to get a clean break from all the underperforming TT defensive backs picks with their Capers influence, and let Pettine start with a clean slate.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Some of HaHas comments to end the season are not a lot different than Randalls.

kevgk's picture

His comments were actually his redeeming factor. He openly defended capers saying he and his team wasn't executing properly. He obviously didnt single himself out, but he didnt absolve himself either.

egbertsouse's picture

I agree 100%. I always thought that HHCD was an overrated stiff who hung out 15 yards from the action looking for overthrows and tipped balls to pad his stats. Last year proved it.

Finwiz's picture

I agree with you to a point.
But you can't let everyone walk, and he's still relatively cheap, so you let him play it out and hope Pettine can coach him up.

But yeah, the way he gave up and laid down on the team was BS.
That stops now or he can ride the pines like a scrub.

Bearmeat's picture

Or, rather, just not be signed to a 2nd contract and we're looking for the next free safety.

HankScorpio's picture

No doubt that HHCD quit on the team last year, IMO.

But I wouldn't dump him yet. His cap # is about $5.6 mil. All that comes off with no dead money. So he'd better show that he is worth that cost in TC. Or he can end up as a high profile cut as the Packers trim the roster to 53.

Irish_Cheesehead's picture

They are not releasing Dix. Possibly a trade, but I don't even see that happening. Two years ago he had 5 INTs, was named to his first Pro Bowl, and was also named to the Second-Team NFL AP All-Pro team. Last year he underperformed, but so did the rest of the team.

Bert's picture

Still a ways to go and Gute has a few levers to pull available to him. Levers TT rarely utilized. I still think a trade of some draft picks for a DB is very possible. I didn't say "probable" but very possible. Given how many GMs overvalue draft picks we may get some pretty good value in return.

ricky's picture

First, that $14.5 million figure is meaningless. How much is guaranteed is the real question. And I'd bet it is heavily front loaded. Now as far as who will play in the DB, that remains to be seen. Trying to get Fuller was a sign the Packers are willing to spend for quality, but won't overpay just for the sake of signing someone we dan then all complain is overpaid. We all wanted change. Now its here, we complain its not the change we want.

Savage57's picture

The way things have worked out recently for DB’s leaving the Packers, look for Morgan Burnett to be the NFL DPOY for 2018.

HankScorpio's picture

The Steeler defense we saw play the Packers last year looked very similar to the Packers defense-- blown coverages and poor tackling for big play TDs. Burnett will feel right at home.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

The heck it is. While I agree that guaranteed money is very important, Pittsburgh only has $8.9M in cap space (waiting on Bell and his enormous cap hit under the exclusive rights franchise tag). There is no way they front loaded Burnett's contract. I am never overly concerned with money that is guaranteed for the first year. It comes off the contract and isn't a land mine that explodes in later years. Signing bonus and money guaranteed in out years matters.

Since '61's picture

Given the amount Burnett signed for with the Steelers the Packers should have considered resigning him. We'll never know what goes on in the locker room but it seems that the Packers wanted Randall and Burnett gone. Randall won't be missed but unless Jones or someone else steps up we could be going back to pre-2014 at safety.
I don't mind Burnett being gone but I'll feel better when we settle our safety position. Thanks, Since '61

Minniman's picture

I wonder if the duration of the contract was the sticking point for the Packers.

Someone posted to another article that its pretty clear that Mike Pettine is highly influential in deciding who stays and who goes - although in a normal corporate executive shake-up this is pretty standard fare - the incumbent will build their own team around them and won't be saddled with any questionable legacy pieces of the fired predecessor.

I suppose one thing. for better or worse, the Packers secondary is going to look and be played ALOT differently than last year!

Rossonero's picture


cuervo's picture

I don't see the point in signing an average at best player who will be 30 years old, has had injury issues lately, and has never been a playmaker to a 5+ mio/year contract. .

At some point it's time to move on, you can;t hold onto all of your fan favorite dirty laundry forever.

I simply find it hard to belive that the safety position will be any worse than it was last year with or without Burnett.

Finwiz's picture

A select few on this site, myself included, predicted that Burnett was overrated and the Packers would let him walk. This was totally predictable, but obviously not the popular opinion. The guy sounded competent when he talked most of the time, but his performance never matched the expectations.

Too many injuries and lack of big plays meant he was totally replaceable and no longer worth the development. Do you realize he hasn't played in 16 games since 2012?

Packers haven't made many wrong moves so far, although the Jordy thing is a bit puzzling, unless they saw something in games and practice that the average fan doesn't know about. I was surprised at how bad he looked after 12 got hurt. I wonder if he re-injured himself and the team knew it.

flackcatcher's picture

Good points, I also wondered if Nelson had injured himself too. The drop off in mid season does not happen to elite players like Nelson for no reason.

lou's picture

Agree Finwiz it was predictable based on the Ted Thompson era (very few if 3 contracts) and now it appears that is the same policy of the new GM at least at the start of his era, which also appears to be the status quo across the NFL. In regards to the current Safety holdovers based on the faith the team has put into defending HaHa my guess is he was injured most of the year but not to the point he could/would not play and you know how McCarthy feels about availability. I can see defending him under those circumstances. I still like Jones more as a LB he has skills like the Steeler's Ryan Shazier and with the quick throws to the backs/TE's in today's game he could be so valuable at LB, just look at how poorly last year we defended screen passes. Time will tell.

4thand1's picture

So where is the veteran leadership coming from? If Burnett was the QB of the defense, then he failed miserably on the back end. Maybe he really didn't grasp the scheme and that's why guys always seemed out of position. Maybe he had the football smarts of, here it comes........................................Bostic?

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Great question.

Seams pretty like BG, MM and MP don't think the veterans last season where providing much leadership. Looking at the result on the field it would be hard to disagree with that.

Minniman's picture

I thought that the Defensive headset wearer role had already passed to Blake Martinez?

A side comment. The irony of the article's photo of Morgan Burnett being torched by Antonio Brown wasn't lost on me!

Minniman's picture

original photo when the article was first posted

Lphill's picture

I knew Burnett was gone when they drafted Josh Jones last year as his replacement, Burnett was just a guy nothing special not a pro bowler . Josh Jones may prove better in the long run.

Nick Perry's picture

EXACTLY!!! The Packers KNEW then they wouldn't be signing Burnett to a 3rd contract. The could have taken several other players but they loved Jones and viewed him as Burnett's replacement. I think for the money he ended up signing for screams that very fact...Josh Jones is the Packers new starting Safety who by the way is more than capable of lining up in the slot or at a LB spot. Hell give me Tramon and House for LESS money than it would cost to have Burnett this year AND the Packers are better as a result.

Rossonero's picture

While I'm not surprised Burnett left, I am very surprised that he signed for Skittles and a bag of peanuts.

$14.3M over 3 years? Casey Heyward got more money and that was two years ago!

While many on here are trashing him, people quickly get amnesia and forget that he was the #1 safety vs. the run in 2014 and 2015, and also has been either the best or nearly the best safety for tackling efficiency -- a rare bright spot in a secondary that has struggled to tackle for years.

From Pro Football Focus:
"At 29 years old, Burnett is undoubtedly nearing the end of his NFL career, but his ability to remain consistent, especially against the run, should keep him in Green Bay. Playing near the line of scrimmage, Burnett is a difference-maker when healthy, as he earned the top run-defense grade among safeties in both his 2014 and 2015 season."

"He also led all qualifying safeties in tackling efficiency (27.5) a year ago, missing just two tackles across 500-plus defensive snaps. Of course, Burnett’s sure tackling in 2017 shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he has missed just 62 of his 764 tackle attempts for a career tackling efficiency mark of 12.3."

Nick Perry's picture

All this is well and good but that was in 2014 and 2015. For what it's worth I read somewhere maybe here that Burnett was one of the worst ranked safeties in football last year in terms of a QB passer rating allowed. Somewhere in the 130's IIRC.

Clearly the idea here is the Packers want to start with an entirely new secondary in 2018 because lets face it, they've been terrible the last few years. The Packers are cleaning house in the back-end and I can't say I mind one bit.

Rossonero's picture

I'd be interested to see his ratings for last year. I'm just shocked he went for so little money.

I wonder if Pettine will want to contninue using the Nitro package (safety lined up as a LB) or not. If so, then Jones fits the bill.

dobber's picture

DB-heavy packages are here to stay. Call them Nitro or whatever, they're still going to happen. DBs have been taking up larger and larger portions of NFL rosters in recent years for this reason: you need to play more of them, and they tend to get hurt.

This is why the Packers need to be very careful about how they do their business this off-season. They need both volume and quality for their DBs to be good and consistent throughout the season. Other teams are seeing this, too, and swallowing up the decent DBs on the market (and mostly keeping their own). We've reached the stage in FA where all that's really left is the safeties, and we'll see them start to fall now.

It's starting to look as if BG has decided that it's draft or bust to fix this DB problem. Either that, or they strongly believe in the personnel they currently have. Whatever the case, this puts a pretty significant strain on their ability to find playable DBs and to fix other current and future issues through the draft.

flackcatcher's picture

No choice dobber, injury situation has forced the Packer hand on the DB group. As long as the NFL rules are set to allow WR-TE free route access, DC will be forced to run nitro, or nitro like packages as their base defense. What make this worse, is all the injuries to DB and WR-TE across the league could and was predicted. Dom Capers was at least 5 years ahead of the rest of the league in his deployment of sub packages. And this year, it caught up to him, and the rest of the league. (I am going to stop, otherwise I might go off on the NFL and it's stupid rules are killing the game and hurting it players rant again 0:)

Bure9620's picture

I have a theory, hear me out. Not neccessarily related to Burnett (but kind of as he played a good amount of slot corner and was versitile), but I do not think the Packers value the cornerback position as highly on their roster as other positions or as highly as other teams do.
The cap is interesting as it emphasizes where resources need to go and be spent and areas of neccessity. If there is a list of all positions for the Packers, corner and inside linbacker would be near the bottom as far as importance for them. For ILB, it's been mostly later round guys whom are not special, but smart and can play downhill and tackle well. Martinez, Thomas, Ryan, Barrington, Moses, etc. For corner, they basically feel they can have younger cheaper players whom are fast and athletic to be coached up and taught technique. Randall played mostly baseball then safety at Arizona St. Rollins played point guard until senior year. Shields was an UFA that was raw with speed and needed coaching, Hayward did not get a second contract and they did not even try to keep him. They are still gushing over Herbie Waters who played reciever in college. How many other postions than corner do the packers fill by taking from other position groups??? How many Packer corners have gotten second contracts at premium prices?? None really, Shields had a second deal not huge, Tramon Williams did too but whom else???? Al Harris? They typically prefer to move on and get younger. My argument falls apart of course when people mention how many high picks the Packers spend on corners, but I think they do so, knowing they will likely not see a second deal. They get good young, cheap, athletic prospects for a few years then move on. The Packers feel front seven, stopping the run and pass rush are more important. Corners can cover for a bit but the rush and safetys can neutrize this. They value the coaching of the corners (which is why Whitt has been there so long.) But not the players themselves. I like Kevin King but unless he is a field flipper, he will surely be gone after his rookie deal. BG is not worried right now. They will draft a few young corners this year so they have them on the cheap and can be discarded soon.

Seattle for example does not value offensive line. Schneider spends very little on the oline, and feels they can be coached up and developed with lesser talent just like we believe at corner. (Fant was a basketball player.) All teams place premiums on different areas, for the Packers, corner is not one of them.

Razer's picture

Not being good at recognizing or drafting talent in the secondary shouldn't be confused with devaluing the position. The Packers have invested a fair amount in corners and safeties from 2014 on and missed on many of those picks. There's that other thing too that misleads a lot of people. We messed up some good players with the Capers "ball of confusion" scheme.

flackcatcher's picture

Tim. Be very careful based on the early reports. There is no doubt that the injuries Burnett suffered last year cut close to 6-8 million off his contract. That the way it goes in pro sports these days. Two. This is a standard veteran contract under the CBA. One year front loaded, low base with the second year a club option. Three year on is cap padding and means nothing. In other words, like Graham, Burnett is a one year rental with the option for a 'extension' if he plays well for his new team.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

If its the policy of GB not to re-sign solid veterans to reasonably low-cost extensions, then I understand the decision to let Burnett walk for this kind of money.

Unless Pittsburgh used a bizarre contract structure, something that effectively guarantees sizable amounts in year 2 and 3, then I do not understand it. I suppose there is always the possibility that Pettine didn't hit it off with Burnett, vice-versa, or didn't like what Burnett has to offer on the field, or that there were some hidden issues we don't know about.

flackcatcher's picture

Yes TGR it is. TT made it back in 2008. I can think of only two exceptions, both of the Packers starting OT got third deals. Tauscher's was Ted admitting a mistake in cutting him when injured in 2008. Clifton was quietly resigned a couple weeks later. But good OL are hard to find, and are pretty durable in this league, OT more so. Signing Burnett is closing a major hole in the Steelers DB. That group is very young, and a veteran with experience was need no 1 for Pittsburgh. Cap wise, we all know how this plays out. New England does this all the time. A bunch of veterans with one year or expiring deals will get the axe, clearing the way for the new signings. How many get cut will depend of how the draft goes for Pittsburgh. I like the Packers way myself. Better to let go a player early, while he still can play so he can get another job. Overall, TT treated his veterans fairly, unlike much of the league.

flackcatcher's picture

Let me add, it is more like an unwritten policy, more like a practice that more and more teams are following. The CBA pretty much dictates this. The reality is this really hurts mid level and long time veterans. Good players who had their contract flexibility taken away by the CBA. Player agents wanted this so they could get their big money deals, didn't think about the rest of their clients. IDIOTS.

croatpackfan's picture

There are few theories floating under this article...

Somehow, I think all of those theories are true at some percentage.

I believe Packers saw declining in Morgan Burnett performances, some of the injuries he suffered last season might left effects in some extent, Mike Pettine schemes are not so complicated - they do not need players to have Ph. D. to play, which helps young players like Jones, Clay will play more ILB position than last year etc...

Only one move Packers make this off season makes me nervous - signing of Jimmy Graham. I hope I'm wrong and that signing will be hit in center...

P.S. I'm sad that Jordy had to leave Packers, but I do not think that is mistake...

Cubbygold's picture

So what's the updated cap number? I thought I heard GB is sitting around $20M. They saved 10 by cutting Jordy, then Mo and Jimmy each have roughly $5M hits each this year.

If that's the case, GB is far from finished in FA. I'm just not sure what they're going to do to spend that money. I could be wrong, but they could probably still bring in Reid, Gains, Tramon and House. If so, then the rebuild of this secondary is just beginning and there will be little reliance on the young guys like we all fear

A Pickled Packer's picture

I can see what Pettine is doing. We have had one of the worst secondaries in football and need to change the culture of that group. Morgan was a big part of that as he was on the field for most of it over his 8 year carreer and a housecleaning was in order. However, he was still a proud Packer and part of our Super Bowl win. That can't be taken away from him.
I saw this on another website called reddit, it was rather touching. It's Morgan's farewell letter to the Packer organization and fans. All the best Morgan and thanks for the memories.

Razer's picture

Morgan is class guy and a true pro like Jordy Nelson. He couldn't have been anything other than positive for the Packers and the locker room. I think the lack of interest from the other teams and the deal indicate the talent level of our secondary. Pittsburgh needed a guy and got good value.

If we are rebuilding the secondary then let's rebuild and move forward. Younger, faster and healthier must be the mantra.

Chuck Farley's picture

Deja-vu all over again. If Gut is Ted t 2.0, and sure sounds like it to me, then someone else is really pulling the strings and it's Russ ball.
The real gm who controls purse strings.
Notice how not one, count em, one top fa even came to go to talk. Reason, their agents know gb is playing cheap ball, why bother.
Like Ted guy got two possible has been with one year deals then dumped guys we need to make up the money. Ted 2.0. this season snafu all over again.

dobber's picture

Both Graham and Wilkerson had multiple teams interested and made visits to other places. They're both at or near the top of their position in FA. You're just devaluing them to fit your hypothesis.

Spock's picture

I liked Morgan and wish him luck (unless playing the Packers, of course!) with Pittsburgh. It seemed pretty obvious that the FO never intended to resign him after the drafting of Jones. Pettine's system is supposed to be "complicated" for opposing teams, but "simplified" for Packer players. Maybe he feels confident that he can get use younger and drafted players this year to play well right away. I'd LOVE to see drafted defensive players actually stepping in and actually playing well THIS year. Wouldn't that be a change from the Capers confusion?!

4thand10's picture

Im inclined to think it's multiple factors as other posters have mentioned. Im also suspecting that it is a result of a new system entirely and that Burnett was a product of the Capers/ LaBaeu Pittsburghesk type system. I'm looking forward to seeing a different system on defense with a different looking back end.

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