As many teams do this time of year, the Buffalo Bills started purging their roster of overpriced and underperforming players. The Bills released linebacker Nick Barnett and safety George Wilson on Monday as they look to get younger on defense.
Linebacker is probably on general manager John Dorsey’s list of needs, making Barnett an ideal target for the Chiefs. While Barnett is not a great player, he is a solid veteran option that can solidify a defense. By signing Barnett, the Chiefs would be able to use their draft picks to fill the holes at defensive end and cornerback.
When Barnett was signed by the Bills in 2011, he was brought in to play inside linebacker in Buffalo’s 3-4 defense. The Bills ended up playing more 4-3 in 2011 and switched their base defense to the 4-3 permanently in 2012. Barnett moved to weak-side linebacker and also has experience at middle linebacker.
The Chiefs could use an inside linebacker to pair with Derrick Johnson, and Dorsey is familiar with Barnett from his time with the Packers. Barnett was drafted in the first round by the Packers in 2003 when Dorsey served as the team’s director of college scouting.
Barnett spent six years as the Packers’ starting middle linebacker and transitioned to inside linebacker in 2009 when the team switched to the 3-4 defense. After playing in only four games in 2010, the Packers chose to let Barnett go after eight years with the team.
As with any free agent, there are potential pitfalls to signing Barnett. Not only is Barnett going to be 32 years old in 2013, but the Bills listed the reason for his release as a failed physical. Barnett’s skills appear to be declining and will probably only continue as he ages.
Despite some warts, Barnett is still a great option for the Chiefs. Not only will Barnett not break the bank, but as the inside linebacker next to Johnson he won’t be pressed into coverage, where he was exploited at times in 2012. Barnett would also be able to step in for Johnson if he were to get injured, which is good for depth.
Usually one of the two inside linebackers comes off the field in nickel situations, but Barnett could give the Chiefs some flexibility because he can play outside. The Chiefs had some issues when teams spread them out in 2012, and a big reason for that was their depth at the linebacker position.
With Barnett, the Chiefs can have Justin Houston and Tamba Hali rush the passer, take a defensive end off the field and still be able to bring out a nickel cornerback. In this situation, the Chiefs would essentially convert to a one-gap defensive front, with Hali as a defensive end and Houston as a blitzing linebacker.
The last time Barnett played as an inside linebacker for a full season (2009) he was ProFootballFocus’ second-highest graded inside linebacker behind Patrick Willis. Barnett is obviously not the same player he was three years ago, but he’s a guy who has played basically every linebacker position, and done it at a high level.
Even despite some struggles in 2012, Barnett was the ninth-best 4-3 outside linebacker, as graded by ProFooballFocus, with two horrible games in coverage against the Patriots blemishing an otherwise solid season. Barnett’s best game according to ProFootballFocus was in Week 2 against the Chiefs when he was excellent against the run.
At very least, the Chiefs should monitor the market for Barnett’s services. There will probably be other teams interested in Barnett, but he’s not likely to get more than the $3 million the Bills saved by releasing him. The Chiefs should build through the draft, but it’s never a bad idea to fill certain needs with solid veterans when the risk is minimal.