GREEN BAY — After eight NFL seasons and 109 career games, Morgan Burnett can’t wait to be a free agent for the first time.
First, though, the Green Bay Packers veteran safety has to make it through the pick-up line at his kids’ school in suburban Atlanta.
“I’m just sitting back, waiting. I’m back in Atlanta on Daddy Duty,” Burnett told SiriusXM NFL Radio’s A.J. Hawk and Brady Quinn when asked if he’d heard from the Packers in advance of free agency. “I’m in the car-pool line, going to practices. I’m really just letting things play out however they’re going to play out. But I’m looking forward to it.”
Burnett, a third-round pick from Georgia Tech in 2010, signed a four-year, $24.75 million extension in July 2013, before the final year of his rookie contract. That deal paid him a guaranteed $8.25 million signing bonus, but he certainly could have made more on the open market had he played out his first deal.
This time, the Packers made no effort to extend him before the end of his contract, and Burnett indicated during the SiriusXM interview that the team has yet to talk to him about getting a deal done before free agency. The negotiating window opens on March 12, with players able to officially sign with new teams on March 14. The Packers could sign him before the market opens but appear content to let Burnett test the free-agent waters.
“I understand it’s a business, so I know how it works,” Burnett said. “But as long as I’m playing football, I’m happy with that. Wherever it’s at, that means that they’ll want me so I’ll be happy to be there. I’m just open to sit back and see how everything plays out, see how everything’s going to go.”
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Burnett turned 29 last month, and in addition to tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee his rookie year, he has dealt with myriad injuries in recent years. He missed two games with a hamstring injury and two more with a groin injury last season; while he only missed one game in 2016 (groin), he missed five games in 2015 because of a calf injury.
Always a willing hitter and tackler, his physical play might give the Packers pause when considering how much they’re willing to pay him and how long of a deal they’d be comfortable with. Burnett played all over the field last year — traditional strong safety, inside linebacker in the “Nitro” package, in the slot in nickel and dime packages and even outside at corner in a pinch — but finished the season with 65 combined tackles, no interceptions, no sacks, one quarterback hit and seven pass break-ups in 12 games.
“I don’t even know what to expect,” Burnett said of free agency. “When you’ve been in a place for so long, you put your heart and soul into something (for) going on eight years, it’s going to be tough if it plays out another way. And then, at the same time, you’re excited because it’s exciting to know and a blessing to know that there’s other teams that are going to pursue you and other teams that might want you. That’s always a good thing, to be wanted in the NFL.”
One thing that could lead the Packers to bring Burnett back is his football IQ. With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine installing a new scheme, Pettine might want a smart, veteran player like Burnett in the mix. But the Packers also took safety Josh Jones with the second of their two second-round picks last spring, and he has a similar, versatile skill set to Burnett’s.
“I really take pride in being a safety that can do everything — just being versatile. I can play zone, I can play deep, if I need to come up and play man, I can do that. If there’s a situation where you need me in the box, I can come up and do that,” Burnett said. “I work hard and don’t limit myself to being in one category. I try to be versatile and do everything. By preparing for that, it doesn’t matter where I land. I’ll be ready and be prepared for it.
“It’s just about being somewhere where you’re wanted, really. And I think everything else will fall into place. … My main goal is just wanting to be somewhere where I know a team is very interested in me and a team is going to be as happy with me as I am with them. For me, it’s all about being wanted.”