Job 1: Shoring up the Packers Defensive Backfield

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Morgan Burnett

For three years running, the Green Bay Packers have struggled trying to put an NFL-quality defensive backfield on the field. In both 2015 and 2017, they expended their top two draft choices in pursuit of the goal, but the results haven’t been satisfactory to date. The team’s pass defense, after being sixth in the league in 2015, went to 31st, and then bounced back a bit, to 21st in 2017.

How to explain such fluctuation? Injuries. Despite having up to 15 DBs (the current total) on the roster, the Packers have been unable to field healthy and quality players. The problem has been masked a bit, as the Packers have routinely sent out injured players rather than placing trust in their lower reserves. In many cases, the injured players performed poorly, making them look less capable than they actually are when healthy.

While injuries can’t be prevented, they can be minimized to some extent. As I’ve indicated, the Packers have been drafting corners and safeties who are too small and too frail. In 2017, they went one for two: Josh Jones has an NFL body, while Kevin King needs to bulk up. The same is true of the terrible choice of Quinten Rollins in 2015.

With this in mind, what should be the top priority in 2018?

Keep Morgan Burnett

Burnett, at age 29, is about to begin his ninth season. After playing every game in 2011 and 2012, he has since played in 13, 15, 11, 15, and 12 games last year. For many players that would be a spotty health record, but for Green Bay that’s makes him an iron man. He’s a solid 6’1” and 209 pounds.

Besides remaining relatively healthy, Morgan is the team’s best tackler – by a wide margin. When able to put in a full season, he recorded 123 tackles in 2012. In just 15 games in 2015, he had 130, leading all defensive backs in the league. He’s a textbook tackler, who goes low, wraps up, and is seldom fooled by a ball carrier’s moves.

He’s not at all flashy, and he can be faulted for failing to make big plays. Nine interceptions (three in the last five years), eight forced fumbles, and eight fumbles recovered is an embarrassing turnover record. Maybe new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can help him improve on that in 2018.

Burnett is also the brains of the secondary – he’s the guy who wears the helmet with the headset. In a sea of youngsters and undrafted guys, I view Burnett as almost indispensable – at least until Josh Jones gets three years under his belt.

Morgan has played cornerback, slot back, and even linebacker when needed. For a team with such an injury record, this kind of versatility becomes a tremendous asset.

And yet I’m hearing a bunch of people claiming Burnett is expendable.

Burnett is finishing up a four-year deal averaging $6.2 million. Since he’s never been named to the Pro Bowl, he won’t draw a ton of interest in free agency. I would think a three-year contract at around $7 to $8 million per year would be reasonable, and affordable.

Micah Hyde’s performance in Buffalo last year should be a good lesson for Green Bay. Hyde was also stable, smart, and had a great record of staying healthy (one game missed in five years). Changing his role brought out his best qualities, and he became a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in his first year away from Green Bay. I figure the mistake of letting Hyde go cost the Packers one or two wins last year.

If I were Mike Pettine, I’d start out by building my defense around a stable, smart, dependable guy like Morgan Burnett.

About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

3 Comments on "Job 1: Shoring up the Packers Defensive Backfield"

  1. CZ Stevens

    The Top Priority should be signing
    Morgan Burnett.

    Here is the REAL reason why this article is so important…

    Morgan Burnett…
    last 5 seasons
    66 games
    3 interceptions
    4.5 qb sacks

    Leroy Butler…
    final 5 full seasons (his final ended early due to injury),
    7 forced fumbles
    17 interceptions
    16.5 qb sacks

    • CZ Stevens

      I will add…

      if we want to continue to have the high-ranking, feared defense like they did under Capers, re-signing players like Burnett is exactly what they should do…

      Mike Pettine, I recommend that… if you don’t mind joining Capers watching games on TV at home.

      Packers, look past the tattoos,

      look at the numbers,

      believe that Burnett is not superhuman,

      believe another with nearly as good nose for the ball could exist in the pool of thousands, and at the combine coming.

      Someone like Burnett, with enough coordination to run…and brains to stear that run toward a player, and better yet, the dam ball.

      “Big time players make big time plays in big time games.” Or is that not true.

      Butler, Woodson, Eric Reed, Ronnie Lott, Troy Palamalu, Brian Dawkins, Earl Thomas.
      Morgan Burnett. Ha Ha

      Yes, I agree.

      We can make a silk purse suddenly of this elder statesman, Morgan, and if Pettine fails, we fire him too, for not being a miracle worker.

      Great defensive players… players that separate good teams from great teams…players that help teams win championships…

      Like Burnett, were there not years on end where the difference makers such as Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor didnt play at all like the hall of famers they are? And they snapped out of that funk? Like Lacy did in Seattle?

      I truly believe, as a Packer fan, I should sit quietly and watch a Burnett at end of his career here be what Dix has failed to be as well… we pay Burnett a ton and teach this old safety to be someone else.

      Just ask Leroy Butler.

  2. CZ Stevens

    Playing with heart isnt pretty, Ha Ha and Burnett.

    It takes all of your athletic ability and risking your health for the win.

    In that process, if you are doing it right, then when you spend your fat paychecks while the hardworking masses spend what they have, just to see you play,

    you and they and the rest of the country should also see pictures online of you during that 60 minutes of action …. that resemble this example of effort by Butler, who showed that his entire career.

    http://bloguin.com/noledout/wp-content/uploads/sites/152/2015/01/359229.jpg

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