Packer Update

Tough choices ahead at linebacker

Bishop is one of three starting-caliber inside linebackers

It isn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice, but general manager Ted Thompson will have an extremely difficult decision of his own to make in a few months. Green Bay has three starting-caliber inside linebackers on the current roster, but in all likelihood, room for only two of them in 2011. Nick Barnett, who played in four games before undergoing wrist surgery in October, is under contract for two more years. He’s scheduled to earn $12.6 million over that time. A.J. Hawk, who is currently enjoying the finest season of his career, is on the books for $10 million in 2011 – the final year of his contract. And Desmond Bishop, who has played extremely well in place of Barnett, will be a free agent in March. Whether he’s restricted or unrestricted will be determined once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. So who’ll be the odd man out? That’s a really tough call – and exactly why Thompson is paid the big bucks. But just for the heck of it, here’s how we analyze the pros and cons when it comes to bringing each player back:


Pros: He played at a Pro Bowl-level in 2009, recording 105 tackles, 4 sacks and 7 pass deflections. He’s one of the few vocal leaders on the defensive side of the ball. His salary is more than reasonable for the next two years (remember, backup inside linebacker Brandon Chillar will make an average of $5.6 million through 2013). He’s a very good athlete who plays in space better than either Bishop or Hawk.

Cons: He’ll be 30 in May. That makes him 38 months older than Bishop and 32 months older than Hawk. He’s missed 19 games in the past three seasons due to surgeries to his knee and wrist. Is that simply bad luck or the beginning of a trend? He’s not a prototypical inside linebacker. He’s aggressive, but at 235 pounds, lacks the strength to consistently take on blockers at the line of scrimmage.


Pros: He has the most upside. He started for the first time in 2010 and has gotten better every week. At 26, he’s the youngest of the three. He’s the most physical inside linebacker on the team. He’s made quite a few big plays this season (3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception return for a TD in only 11 starts). He’s a punishing hitter who adds much-needed toughness and meanness to the defense.

Cons: If he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency, it’s going to cost a lot of money to keep him. He could be paid as much in 2011 as Barnett will make in the next two years. He doesn’t run very well. Dom Capers has done a great job of playing to his strengths, but with an offseason to study film, offensive coordinators will work hard to find ways to exploit this weakness – both against the run and the pass.


Pros: He’s currently enjoying his best season. He seemed to thrive when handed the play calling responsibilities after Barnett’s injury. He’ll turn 27 in a few weeks, so he’s just now entering the prime of his career. He hasn’t missed a single game since being drafted by the Packers in 2005. He’s improved in coverage. He’ll never look pretty in space, but he hasn’t been much of a liability in 2010.

Cons: Like Bishop, he’s going to be very expensive to keep. Whether the Packers honor his current deal (unlikely) or attempt to work out a long-term extension, he’s going to be paid eight figures in 2011. He doesn’t make many big plays. He has only 8.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 79 games. His ceiling is limited. His speed and functional football strength are marginal at best for a 3-4 inside linebacker.

As you can see, choosing between the three players isn’t going to be easy. The guess here is that Barnett is safe and ultimately the decision will be between Bishop and Hawk. It’s hard to imagine Thompson paying out over $20M in 2011 to keep both. The guess here – notice the trend – is that Hawk will demand more money as part of a long-term contract. That, along with Bishop’s higher ceiling, could be the difference. A trio of Barnett, Bishop and Chillar would be fine for the next two years, and in the meantime, Thompson will be able to draft a player to replace Barnett in 2013. Anyway, that’s how we see it as of now. How Thompson sees it won’t be known for a few more months.

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14 Comments to "Tough choices ahead at linebacker"

  1. jvan says:

    IMHO, Hawk’s apparent improved play coincided with Bishop’s insertion into the starting lineup. So I think without Bishop’s physical play in the middle, Hawk’s passivity is exposed, as it was playing alongside Barnett. In addition to marginal speed and strength for a 3-4 ILB, Hawk seems never to get off a block to make a tackle. He also rarely closes ground to make a tackle. I can’t even imagine Hawk chasing a ball carrier down the field and punching the ball out as Matthews did to Jacobs against the Giants. So I would place Hawk in the same category with Colledge and James Jones as players you can’t win a championship with.

    • lars says:

      Completely agree with jvan’s opinion and would add that Hawk is one of THE most overpayed players the NFL. Colledge the O’s version of Hawk and James Jones, while physically talented remains a knucklehead.

  2. Eric says:

    I like how Bishop and Hawk are playing together, but how much money can Ted pay at one position?? For the life of me, I still don’t understand Chillar’s contract. That’s going to come back to haunt Ted when he starts negotiating with Bishop and Hawk.

  3. nerdmann says:

    Barnett is soft. I consider him the “Darrien Sharpier” of LBs. He was anointed by Sherman and never had to earn the spot, then had a fit everytime they considered moving him outside. In fact, if they bring him back, it should be on the outside.
    Keep Barnett around long enough to use him as leverage on the Hawk renegotiation. No way should Barnett start over Bishop.

  4. rover27 says:

    “he’s(Hawk) going to be paid eight figures in 2011″
    Don’t you mean 7 figures? He’s due 8 figures($10 million) as is.

    • Michael Rodney says:

      No, I meant eight figures. His base salary would be lower than $10M, but he’d almost certainly make more than that in total compensation (base and signing bonus) for 2011. That’s the thing, the Packers are probably going to have to lay out between $16 and $22M in 2011 to keep both Hawk and Bishop.

  5. McCarren's Finger says:

    They need to get rid of Barnett. He has character issues and and tweets from the locker room. Plus he misses way too many games. Hawk and Bishop are bona fide stalwarts for years to come.

    They can trade Barnett to Houston when Mike Sherman takes over next month. They also need to ditch Bigby, Tauscher, and Spitz.

    In order to make a run next year I hope they resign Jenkins and bring back Jolly on the DL. They are key. Pickett is getting old and Neal could be a bust like Harrel and Reynolds.

    They have the right pieces they need to resign them for next year. They also have to get a lot tougher and shed their image as finess wusses if they wanna win a super bowl.

    • Dont text me brent says:

      Barnett has character issues? Hawk is a stalwart? Please man. Your thought process resembles McCarren’s finger.

      Oh, also Pickett is not getting old and Neal….. Not sure why I bother.

      • McCarren's Finger says:

        Yeah I would say someone that was charged with battery and initially suspended for a game for a bar fight has character issues. I am not saying that he should be a boy scout (or any pro football player for that matter) but there is no need to lay hands on a woman that asks for your autograph. Oh, and whay kind of tool chastizes fans via twitter for booing him for celebrating after making a tackle? Hawk keeps his mouth shut and does his job week in and week out and doesn’t complain when the coaches ask him to do something else and I respect that.

        TT must make an example of the training room lingerers and cut them loose. The coaches and GM’s that win super bowls don’t put up with that crap. Otherwise next year you can expect another 15 people on IR.

        Pickett is 32 next year. Still good but we need insurance.

  6. Hale says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to kick Barnett to the curb. He was a major part of the No. 2 defense in the league last season. He’s a much better player than some people are giving him credit for.

  7. Dustin says:

    Desmond and barnett both play the buck ilb position, while hawk is the only player on the team that is capable of playing the Mack position. Hawks ability to take on blockers allows the buck ilb to make the play, he is our most important backer and should be priority number one.

    • jvan says:

      Do you really think it takes some special ability to get blocked out of a play? If so, can you describe what that ‘ability’ might be, because it looks to me like Hawk prefers to get tangled up with a blocker rather than be involved in a collision with a ball carrier? Also where was this ‘most important backer’ on the Jacobs’ fumble in the Giant game? He got tangled up with a tight end at the LOS, blocked into the back field, and arrived at the area where the fumble was recovered 13 seconds after the play started. As Archie stated below, draft a physical guy to complement Bishop, and save the money wasted on Hawk.

  8. Archie says:

    This is an easy one in my opinion – cut ties with both D1 bonus babies, Hawk & Barnett. Both are soft v the run, neither can cover in space and neither can blitz. Draft a guy to complement Bishop, save a ton of money that will be needed elsewhere, and get on with it. I want two ILB who are physical. We have one – Bishop.

    ps – Chad Greenway will be a free agent this year – he’d make a great addition to the GB Packers.

  9. Family Ghost says:

    I think Barnett will be the odd man out based on his injury history, and age. McCarthy likes to use the word “availability” on occasion, and over the past three years Barnett has had long stretches where he has not been available. Hawk on the other hand is always ready for game day .. hasn’t missed a game yet.

    Given the tough choices Ted Thompson will choose youth and keep Hawk and Bishop on board, and send Barnett off for a mid level draft pick. Barnett is a good player .. someone might be willing to part with a decent draft choice for his services.

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