What's Next for the Green Bay Packers Following Release of ILB Desmond Bishop?

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJune 17, 2013

The NFL can be a cruel business sometimes. Just ask Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop.

Or should I say, former Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop.

After tallying over 100 total tackles and averaging four sacks a year in 2010 and 2011, the 28-year-old appeared to be blossoming into one of the better 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL.

In January of 2011 the Packers inked Bishop to a four-year, $19 million contract. He had some financial security, the Packers had a solid linebacker at a nice price, everyone was happy.

However, Bishop's entire 2012 season was wiped out by a severe hamstring injury. Now he's out of work after being released on Monday, according to Tyler Dunne of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

It's a move that had been rumored for some time. As Kareem Copeland of NFL.com reported at the time, trade rumors have swirled around Bishop since late April and last week the news broke that the team was set to release Bishop if they couldn't work out a restructured contract.

The most curious part of this whole saga is that it comes after Green Bay released D.J. Smith earlier in the offseason. Smith started the 2012 season in Bishop's spot before suffering a season-ending injury of his own.

Now Smith and Bishop have both been shipped out of town. According to Dunne, Bishop believes it was for a number of reasons.

Bishop continues to maintain that he'll be ready for the start of training camp. Frankly, the only thing that makes any sense is that the Packers have serious reservations about his health. There's just no other reason to cut a player of Bishop's quality, especially when that player's salary is palatable.

It also begs the question of what the Packers do now, as a team that did have exceptional depth at inside linebacker is now seeing that depth sorely tested...again.

The next man up on the depth chart, and the player most likely to assume Bishop's role at WILB for the Packers, is fifth-year pro Brad Jones.

Jones had 77 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble a year ago after stepping into the starting lineup when Smith went down. Green Bay thought well enough of how Jones handled himself that they inked him to a three-year, $11.75 million contract in March.

The Packers weren't alone in their high regard for Jones' play. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Jones 10th among inside linebackers last year. PFF's Nathan Jahnke highlighted Jones in his "Secret Superstars" series this year, calling the 27-year-old "a name to remember on Green Bay’s defense."

In fact, using Pro Football Focus' rankings as a barometer, Jones performed better in nearly every category in 2012 than Bishop the season before.

This isn't to say that Brad Jones is a slam-dunk at inside linebacker in Green Bay. Despite starting just over half the season, Jones missed eight tackles according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked him in the bottom 20 in the NFL in that category at his position. He also graded negatively in both of Green Bay's postseason games.

It's possible that those missed tackles and late-season struggles could send the Packers in search of a veteran linebacker. Nick Barnett, who played the first eight seasons of his career in Green Bay, is a free agent. Given the lack of interest in his services to date, Barnett could signed on for cheap.

That appears rather unlikely though. Yes, on the surface the Packers look to at least be in need of depth at inside linebacker behind Jones. However, general manager Ted Thompson has never been a proponent of patching holes with veterans.

The Packers are very much a team that promotes from within and if Thompson and company weren't confident that second-year man Terrell Manning could step in if Jones falters, Bishop probably wouldn't have been released to begin with.

That doesn't make Bishop feel any better, although if he can show the hamstring is all right he won't be out of work long. Meanwhile, it's just another day at the office in Titletown.

Next man into the breach.