The leap from Atlanta to Green Bay is complete for inside linebacker James Burgess.
The Packers officially added Burgess to their active roster Monday afternoon after they signed him off the Falcons’ practice squad over the weekend and placed him on the exempt/commissioner permission list. They also released offensive guard Ben Braden in a corresponding move that created space for him on the 53-man squad.
Burgess has bounced around to his fair share of NFL teams since entering the league in 2016, but the 26-year-old comes to the Packers with 21 starts at inside linebacker. He also finished the 2019 season as the New York Jets’ leading tackler with 80 combined over 10 games, creating a handful of impact plays and displaying solid speed and instincts in pass coverage.
In 27 career games, Burgess has totaled 163 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, two FF's, and one INT.
— Packer Report (@PackerReport66) October 21, 2020
The Packers can now add Burgess to their list of healthy linebackers alongside others such as Ty Summers and fifth-round rookie Kamal Martin, who made six tackles in 29 snaps during his NFL debut on Sunday. Top middle linebacker Christian Kirksey is eligible to return to practice this week but remains on injured reserve, while Krys Barnes has been dealing with a shoulder injury since Week 4’s game against the Falcons.
Braden’s second stint with the Packers lasted less than a week after the fourth-year lineman spent about two months of 2019 on their practice squad. They re-signed him to the practice squad last Wednesday and promoted him to the 53-man roster for depth ahead of Week 7’s trip to Houston, but he was the only active Packer who did not play against the Texans.
There is a chance the Packers could re-sign him to the practice squad if he clears the waivers, as they did with wide receiver Reggie Begelton earlier this season.
Packers’ Linebacker Future Looking Clearer
The Packers took a gamble when signing Kirksey as the new centerpiece of their defense, knowing that injuries had limited him to just nine games over the previous two seasons, but it didn’t make things any easier when he was injured in Week 3’s win over New Orleans and forced to spend time on injured reserve.
The silver lining is the Packers now have a clearer understanding of the talent they possess in their inside ‘backer room, specifically as it pertains to Barnes.
Barnes was an undrafted rookie with little preseason hype and a place on the practice squad prior to the start of the season who earned a promotion when Martin went on IR. Now, he is the Packers’ leading tackler with 43 combined and calling the signals for their defense with just six total NFL games under his belt, generating more tackles for a loss than anyone else on the roster aside from outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith.
Martin’s impressive return to action on Sunday — from a September knee surgery, no less — also offered an encouraging sign for Green Bay’s linebacker future. According to Pro Football Focus, Martin was the Packers’ highest-graded defender (77.3) against the Texans and was credited for making three stops, including his first tackle for a loss.
The more Barnes and Martin continue to validate themselves as capable NFL linebackers, the easier the decision-making becomes for the Packers moving forward at the position. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst might not feel motivated to bring back Oren Burks with him spending more time as a deep-chart outside ‘backer these days. He could also more justifiably move on from Kirksey in 2021 (if necessary) to save $6 million in cap space.
How Burgess fits into the picture remains one of the biggest questions moving forward into Week 8, but trying to determine his future will be just about impossible until we see how the Packers intend to use him. If he is simply there to provide depth until Kirksey is full-go again, he may not have many reps to prove himself. Given a shot, though, maybe Burgess can prove his success for New York wasn’t a one-year thing and earn a meaningful role in the rotation.