GREEN BAY – Morgan Burnett's eyes were opened to the reality of the NFL during his rookie year in 2010.
After a challenging campaign in which he tore his ACL, the Packers' safety sat down with veterans Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah in the locker room and reflected on his first professional season.
"I remember being like, 'Man, rookie season is long,'" recalled Burnett during the team's final open locker room earlier this month. "Nick was like, 'This thing goes quick. You'll turn around and you'll be sitting on seven, eight years.'"
Sure enough, eight seasons flew by in an instant. Burnett was the second-longest serving member of Green Bay's defense in 2017, behind only six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews.
Steady and durable, the 6-foot-1, 209-pound safety has done it all for the Packers. He's been a safety, a slot cornerback, a hybrid linebacker in the "Nitro" nickel package and even a boundary cornerback when injuries were at their peak in the secondary.
More was asked of Burnett in 2017 than any other time in his career. He wore the communication headset for the first half of the season before finishing the year as the Packers' "star" slot cornerback in the nickel and dime sub-packages.
Now, after 109 NFL starts (including playoffs), the 29-year-old safety faces free agency for the first time in his career. It's an unfamiliar position for Burnett to be in after he previously signed an extension prior to the fourth and final year of his rookie deal in July 2013.
However, it's also a situation that doesn't frighten him.
"I'm not going to call it scary, but it's like in a territory of uncertainty," said Burnett, who had 68 tackles, seven pass deflections and a forced fumble in 12 games this season.
"You don't know what's going to happen. But I'm good mentally, I'm good physically, so I'm going to just see where the chips fall from there."
Known for his even-keeled personality, Burnett quickly gained the respect of the Packers' locker room upon his arrival as a third-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2010. A team captain at every level of football he's played, Burnett was voted a playoff captain for the first time during his fourth season with the Packers in 2013. He was only 25 at the time.
Burnett, the team's nominee for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award this past year, can't explain why he's held in such high esteem among his teammates. Since the beginning, he's tried to live by the maxim his late father, Cap Sr., passed down to him.
"No matter where you're at, you always stay true to yourself," Burnett said. "You be yourself no matter what situation you're in or the circumstances, and people will gradually respect that. I came in and was the Morgan Burnett I've always been since growing up and being raised in College Park, Ga. When you do that, a lot of people appreciate that. It's just me being myself."
Life has changed dramatically for Burnett over the past seven years. He shed his dreadlocks, got married, became a father for the second time, overcame his own father’s untimely passing and saw his role expand during each season he spent in Green Bay.
The future doesn't faze Burnett, one of the Packers' nine unrestricted free agents this offseason. He's taking the same mindset into this offseason that he does every year – be a husband, be a father, work out and get ready for Year 9.
As Collins promised, the seasons continue to fly by.
"This really went fast," Burnett said. "I regret nothing about it. I enjoyed it. It was a fun ride. I grew up from a young guy to a mature man here. My family has grown and being here helped me grow as a man."