CLEVELAND, Ohio — Putting together one of his better seasons in recent memory, Morgan Burnett was once again playing well in the Browns 21-7 victory over the Steelers on Thursday Night Football.
He had just returned a tipped interception 43 yards that sent FirstEnergy Stadium into a frenzy before he suffered a torn Achilles tendon with 1:26 left in the half. The injury seemed ominous due to the non-contact variety after he came up limping following a 13-yard catch by Diontae Johnson late in the half. Tests taken Friday revealed the season-ending injury, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has not provided an update on his condition. The injury will keep him out for the remainder of 2019 and will jeopardize most of his 2020 season.
Burnett made five tackles and an interception on the night and was impactful covering Vance McDonald over the middle of the field.
The 30-year-old Burnett, who signed with Cleveland in April as a free agent, had a big impact in his first season in Cleveland — even as he battled injuries in training camp and various points through the season’s first half.
Known as a sure tackling safety who filled the strong safety role well in defensive coordinator Steve Wilks 4-2-5 scheme, Burnett will be missed as he was also providing a steady presence in pass coverage as well. His Pro Football Focus grades featured some of his best marks in years and his impact showed in the team grades when he was on the field.
In his first season in Cleveland, Burnett made 41 tackles, two sacks, two pass breakups and an interception in eight games.
Burnett signed a two-year deal with the Browns that guaranteed him $4 million over the course of two years with a potential to reach $9 million in incentives. According to Spotrac.com, Burnett’s contract does have a potential out after 2019 wit just a $1.325 million lingering dead cap number for the 2020 salary sheet. This will likely be an option the Browns explore due to the severity of the injury and how it will impact his ability to have a role for a good portion of next season.
The safety position in the future now becomes even less clear with Burnett’s long-term injury and the contract situation with Damarious Randall. The position group has a chance to be completely overhauled in 2020.
For now, the Browns will now be forced to turn to Juston Burris full-time with the linger injury to Eric Murray and the release of Jermaine Whitehead just two weeks ago. Burris has been playing well in the role and now gets a full-time audition for six games. Rookie Sheldrick Redwine, who played a small role filling in for Burris when he left briefly Thursday, will also be expected to contribute in the secondary.
Now down Myles Garrett for the season, Larry Ogunjobi next week, and battling injuries to Olivier Vernon, the Browns defense will be forced to rally together and challenge their depth in a part of the schedule that favors a potential run for a wild card birth.