GREEN BAY — With $16.3 million in salary-cap space despite inking quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews to lucrative extensions earlier this offseason, the Green Bay Packers have reportedly identified their next core player to lock up long-term: Safety Morgan Burnett.
Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reported Thursday on his Twitter feed
that the Packers were trying to "hammer out" a deal with Burnett, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract after entering the league as a third-round pick in 2010 out of Georgia Tech.
Burnett's rookie season ended after four games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, but he's started every one of the Packers' 35 games (including playoffs) each of the past two seasons. He registered 112 tackles, one sack and four interceptions and broke up 16 passes in 17 games in 2011, then had 148 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and 15 break-ups last season in 18 games. In fact, Burnett played every one of the Packers' 1,260 snaps.
Burnett's best game last season was against Minnesota on Dec. 2, when he intercepted a pair of passes inside the Packers' 20-yard line — including one in the end zone — to help preserve a 23-14 victory.
According to NFL Players Association data, Burnett is set to earn a base salary of $1.323 million in 2013. His base salary last year was just $540,000.
"He's made progress each year. Smart, very coachable. From a coach's standpoint you have great confidence that he's going to be accountable and he's got playmaking ability," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said of Burnett. "You saw our Minnesota game out here, without those two interceptions we're in a doggone dog fight. Because it was, when he made those interceptions, it was heading downhill on us.
"They come out the first play (of the game), (Adrian) Peterson broke a long one and his interception turned the game around. The other one was in the red zone, too. Both those were points off the board. I think he's at a point in terms of being your quarterback and taking over the communication and all those kinds of things, he's confident. He's been around here for three years. He played every play last year."
The Packers reportedly have told defensive tackle B.J. Raji that he'll have to wait until after the season for a new deal. Raji and Burnett are among a host of players entering the final years of their deals, including tight end Jermichael Finley, wide receiver James Jones, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, defensive end Mike Neal and right tackle Marshall Newhouse.