According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Packers are signing veteran linebacker James Burgess Jr. off the Falcons’ practice squad to their 53-man roster, providing them with some depth at an inside ‘backer position that is still without starter Christian Kirksey. The move will expectedly be made official once Burgess passes COVID-19 protocols.
The Packers had three spaces available on their active roster following a few other roster moves on Tuesday afternoon, including placing backup cornerback Parry Nickerson on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Adding Burgess will put them at 51 players.
The Packers will be Burgess’ eighth NFL team since joining the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016, but the 26-year-old middle linebacker isn’t without notable contributions throughout his journeyman career.
Burgess has started 21 games over the past three seasons — 11 of which came for the Cleveland Browns — and finished his most recent year as New York Jets’ leading tackler with 80 combined over 10 games in 2019. He also tallied eight tackles for a loss and five pass deflections along with an interception, fumble and fumble recovery each.
With Kirksey stuck on IR until at least next week, the Packers will now add Burgess to an active-roster group of linebackers with little experience on the field beyond 2020. They have been depending heavily on undrafted rookie Krys Barnes and second-year Ty Summers, neither of whom had played an NFL snap prior to this season.
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Can Burgess Help Packers Defense?
While the Packers defense finished the 2019 season with some noticeable deficiencies — namely stopping the run — there was at least an identity in place for Mike Pettine’s unit that touted a fearsome pass-rushing attack, particularly from the edges.
These days? Not so much.
The Packers have won four games in a convincing fashion and remain in a perfectly viable place as a football team, but they are struggling to get the necessary contributions out of their pass rushers. Preston Smith has virtually dropped off the map with just four total pressures and half of a sack through five games, while injuries have slowed nose tackle Kenny Clark and former first-rounder Rashan Gary.
The lackluster pass rush was never more apparent than Sunday against Tom Brady when the combined power of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Clark, Gary and defensive lineman Kingsley Keke was only able to pressure the Hall of Fame quarterback five times on 27 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
At the same time, the Bucs defense also showed the Packers what it looks like to have two quick and athletic linebackers filling out the middle of their system. Devin White and Lavonte David were disruptive and making plays all over the field, combining for 2.5 sacks, five tackles for a loss and four quarterback hits, while Barnes and Summers struggled to make nearly the same impact for the Packers.
Burgess might be able to help the Packers out in that department. Not only has he proved to be competent in pass coverage during his previous stops, but he also finished the 2019 season with a 10.7% run-stop percentage, finishing fourth in the NFL among linebackers who played a minimum of 200 snaps of run defense, per PFF.
While Barnes — who is proving to be a UDFA gem for the Packers — and Summers will still most likely get preferential treatment in terms of Week 7 playing time, the Packers could lean on Burgess’ experience to help with containing Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, especially if rookie linebacker Kamal Martin still isn’t ready to go.
Martin returned to practice last week from injured reserve, but he was not activated for the Packers’ road game in Tampa Bay. The 2020 fifth-round pick had been in the mix for starting reps before suffering a knee injury before the start of the season and could become an important piece once healed and back in the fold.