Atari Bigby has been a serviceable starter at safety for the Green Bay Packers when healthy since he won the job heading into the 2007 season. However, his days in Green Bay could be coming to an end.
Bigby, a restricted free agent, has so far refused to sign his tender with the Packers, staying away from all of the offseason activities in Green Bay thus far.
Bigby's absence has allowed rookie third round draft pick Morgan Burnett to benefit from receiving all the reps with the first team defense during OTAs and mini camp. And, Burnett's coaches and teammates have liked what they've seen from the 21-year-old out of Georgia Tech.
Burnett has drawn high praise from high places, including both head coach Mike McCarthy and reigning Defensive Player of the Year and the leader of the Packers secondary Charles Woodson.
If Burnett continues to impress when the pads go on through training camp, I believe Bigby will become the odd man out, mainly because of his unhappiness with his contract and his lack of value on special teams compared to the other players at safety.
If Burnett takes the starting job from Bigby heading into the start of the season, Bigby is unlikely to be around when the games begin.
Pro Bowler Nick Collins, special teams ace Derrick Martin, and Burnett are locks to make the team which means Bigby would be battling former cornerback Will Blackmon and undrafted rookie free agent Anthony Levine for the fourth spot at safety on the 53-man roster.
Its unlikely but not unfathomable that GM Ted Thompson could keep five players at safety, especially if one of them were Blackmon due to his back round at corner.
However, if Thompson keeps only four, Levine will end up on the practice squad and Bigby will be traded.
Blackmon will be the backup free safety, and Martin will be the backup strong safety because he has a good shot to lead the Packers in special teams tackles in 2010.
Blackmon will win out over Bigby because of his age (25), big play potential at safety, and his ability to return kicks specifically punts. He has a career average of 11 yards per return and has three career punt returns for touchdowns.
I hope this doesn't play out, but I can't ignore a scenario in which Bigby loses the starting job and is then traded prior to the season.
The best case for the Green Bay Packers 2010 season is Bigby returns to the team for training camp with a chip on his shoulder and plays lights out, reminiscent of his performance back to the end of the 2007 regular season and then through out the playoffs that year.
If Bigby can hold onto the starting job, at least for this season, the Packers defense will be that much better.
Burnett could provide excellent depth behind both Bigby and Collins while playing in the nickel and dime defenses a la future Hall of Famer Darren Sharper in his rookie season, which incidentally ended in a trip to the Super Bowl.
Burnett now wears number 42 and could make a similar impact in the role Sharper played so well as a rookie in 1997 scoring the first two of many defensive touchdowns in his career.
We'll have to wait until training camp begins to find out.