Brian Burns has been one of the NFL’s most productive pass rushers over the past four seasons.
Now the Carolina Panthers outside linebacker wants to be paid like it.
“Yeah,” Burns said matter-of-factly with a laugh when asked if that’s his wish.
Burns is set to make $16 million in the final season of his five-year rookie contract, but the Panthers are still hoping to sign him to a long-term extension. Whether or not that happens before the season remains to be seen.
“We’re having conversations,” Burns said Tuesday at the team’s minicamp. “That’s about the most I can say about it.”
Burns has 38 sacks in four seasons with Carolina, 11th most in the NFL over the span. That’s still well behind the 57 1/2 sacks from Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt, who set a new monetary bar for pass rushers when he signed a four-year, $112 million contract in 2021.
Burns is unlikely to command that much from the Panthers, but he’s clearly a player on the rise.
Just 25, he’s coming off a 12 1/2-sack season in 2022 despite routinely getting double-teamed and playing on a team that trailed in most games, thus limiting his opportunities to tee off on opposing quarterbacks in obvious pass rushing situations.
In fact, Burns has never played on a winning team since joining the league.
He will move from defensive end to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s new 3-4 scheme, which could provide him with increased opportunities to pick his spots to attack the quarterback.
Burns said Tuesday his goal is to have at least 10 sacks through the first 10 games.
It’s the first time in his career he’s made his personal goals public. But, like switching from No. 53 to 0 this season, he joked “there’s a lot of new stuff going on here.”
Burns has been chomping at the bit to get on the field after missing all of OTAs and minicamp while rehabbing from offseason ankle surgery. The Panthers expect Burns will be 100% for the start of training camp in six weeks.
In the meantime he’s been serving as a mentor to the team’s younger pass rushers, often pulling them aside during practice to give advice.
“He’s a phenomenal leader and has been totally into it,” Panthers coach Frank Reich said. “In the meeting room, on the practice field he’s totally locked in. And he’s making good progress physically. We are not only expecting him to be a great player on the field but also be a great leader.”
Reich said despite the change in position, he doesn’t think Burns’ role will change all that much.
Burns also dropped into coverage at times last season under former defensive coordinator Phil Shaw’s defensive scheme as a defensive end.
“What I am learning about him, like most great players, is he’s a very smart football player,” Reich said. “So that allows us to do different things with him. Sure, we mainly want (him) to rush the passer. But it does allow us to do other things. … We will see how that all plays out.”
Burns repeated on Tuesday what he’s said all along — that he wants to remain with the Panthers, the team that drafted him 16th overall in 2019 out of Florida State.
While he’s looking forward to a long-term contract, he said it will happen when it happens.
“I’m just blessed to be in even in that talk (of highest-paid pass rushers) and have that opportunity,” Burns said. “Right now I am just enjoying the process and everything that comes with it.”
INJURIES: Safety Vonn Bell (hamstring) and rookie guard Chandler Zavala (pectoral) were held out of minicamp following recent injuries. Reich said veteran cornerback Donte Jackson, who tore his Achilles tendon last year, should be ready for training camp.