Packers have all hands on deck
Safety Atari Bigby signed his restricted free-agent tender of $1.759 million Tuesday, as reported by ESPN and confirmed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The lone veteran holdout since 2005 was running back Ryan Grant, who missed seven days in 2008.
Bigby, 28, balked at signing the second-highest of the four tenders but attracted no interest as a restricted free agent. What leverage he might have enjoyed evaporated when rookie Morgan Burnett impressed in May and June as the No. 1 strong safety.
A source close to the situation said the Packers as far back as mid-January had no interest in negotiating a legitimate long-term contract with Bigby and his fourth agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
Final games often linger in the minds of National Football League decision-makers, and watching Bigby miss two tackles and demonstrate his limitations in range and coverage before exiting with a pulled hamstring in the third quarter of the playoff loss to Arizona didn’t help his cause.
Still, the Packers wanted Bigby back on the roster because he has started when healthy the last three years and there is little backup strength.
“He was probably the lead dog when it came to the communication part of things back there,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He helped Nick (Collins) out in terms of communication. He got hurt early. I’d say there were some ups and downs. Probably a better first- and second-down player than a third-down player.”
Bigby struggled in training camp last summer largely because of a lingering ankle injury that caused him to miss nine games in 2008. Then he suffered a sprained knee in the opener and didn’t get back into the lineup until Week 6.
He allowed 4 1/2 of his five touchdown passes from Weeks 7-10 but played much better down the stretch.
“When he came back he was kind of like our rock back there,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “He had a couple plays where you were like, ‘What was he doing?’ But if you added up the plays and graded them, Atari Bigby played winning football for us. He wasn’t as bad as people made him out to be. You can win with Atari Bigby.”
Under the previous labor system, Bigby would have been an unrestricted free agent this year. But when the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, the requirement for unrestricted status increased from four to six years and Bigby was stuck.
Last year, Bigby played for a restricted tender of $1.545 million. An undrafted free agent from Central Florida cut by Miami and the New York Jets in 2005, he has never had a signing or roster bonus in any contract. Few starting players ever have been able to say that.
Burnett, a third-round draft choice, is expected to push Bigby for the job.
“Bigby is our starting safety but I think it will be very competitive,” Perry said. “If I know Atari like I think I do, he will come back ready to roll.
“We’ve got competition. That’s the biggest motivator right there. We’ve talked. He’s been working out in Arizona. He’s aware of what Burnett’s done so far. He doesn’t plan on relinquishing anything.”