Memo to Bigby: Sign Your Tender

While Atari Bigby has been a difference-making starting safety, the Packers have plenty invested in third-round selection Morgan Burnett, who has impressed during OTAs. The longer Bigby stays away, the more his advantage in this battle disappears.

Hello, Atari.

Bill from Packer Report here. Just a little word of advice for you and, more importantly, your agent, Drew Rosenhaus: You might want to consider signing that restricted free agent tender and start practicing.

I know what you're thinking. What's a couple weeks of offseason practices? You know the defense and you've produced in this defense. When you play, the Packers generally win. When you don't play, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has to junk half of his playbook.

But here's the thing. That rookie Morgan Burnett, he can play. He's made more plays in these organized team activities than you have in most offseasons. The more he plays, the better he's going to get and the more comfortable he's going to get. And, more importantly, the more comfortable the coaches are going to get with Burnett.

While the Packers obviously like you — otherwise, they wouldn't have slapped the second-round tender on you again — they aren't totally in love with you, either. When the Packers drafted Burnett in the third round, it wasn't the case of him being "best player available." No, general manager Ted Thompson gave up his fourth-round pick to move up 15 slots in the third round to get Burnett. Thompson wanted Burnett and he wanted him for a reason: to challenge you for the starting job.

"I just knew that there was a long list of names ... we had these slot charts in each round, and on my slot chart, we were way down here and the pick was way up there and I wanted to move up there because I didn't think he would get there," Thompson explained during the draft. "If I was a better gambler or poker player, maybe I could have waited it out, but we felt strongly that he would be a good addition to our team."

Atari Bigby has been a solid starter for three years.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Atari, I know you've been more productive than most people believe, with 10 interceptions in your three years as the starter, including four picks last year. I might be your biggest supporter in the Packers press corps. But your injury history is a big concern. After starting all 16 games in 2007, you've started only 17 games since, and you left the playoff loss against Arizona with a hamstring injury. Your interceptions last year came against Detroit (third-stringer Drew Stanton), Seattle (two against Matt Hasselbeck) and Arizona (backup Matt Leinart), and you don't have the elite range needed in this pass-happy era.

Burnett, on the other hand, picked off 14 passes in his three seasons at Georgia Tech and never missed a game. He's taller than you (6-foot-1 compared to 5-foot-11) and faster than you. If he can figure out the defense — your absence is helping him in that regard — a defense that forced 39 turnovers and picked off 30 passes last season could become just that much more dangerous.

"He's an impressive kid," director of college scouting John Dorsey told Packer Report last month. "He's a younger kid coming out but he is mature. He has a knack for the ball finding him. He's got excellent ball skills, he shows range and he can catch the ball, and I think that's really important for a defensive back to catch the ball when it's thrown in his direction. He's smart and he understands the game. His personality will allow him to compete with Atari for playing time."

What separates you from the impostors who tried to replace you last year is your knowledge of the defense and feel for the game. You're like glue in keeping the secondary on the same page. But the more Burnett plays, the better he'll get. Those who know him laud Burnett for his football IQ. Once he figures it out, his athletic ability and playmaking ability are going to be awfully hard to keep off the field. And his huge upside is giving Thompson less and less reason to give you that long-term contract that you and Rosenhaus say you deserve.

"Been very impressed with Morgan," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's done a very good job, particularly communicating for a young safety. That's a very big part of playing the position, the communication, as far as the alignments, the formations and the calls to be made back there. I think he's off to a good start. I think he's a very natural football player."

I know what you're thinking, Atari. With only the slightest exaggeration, no rookie has ever beaten out a quality veteran during voluntary offseason practices. While that's true, your absence isn't making the heart grow fonder.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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