After months of intense negotiations, NFL lawsuits, and revenue splits, the owners and the players have fully and completely ratified and completed a new collective bargaining agreement, and football is back on, and it has given the Packers a reason to show what made them World Champions last season.
And with the end of the lockout comes the beginning of free agency, and with it came the Packers first move of free agency: the release of longtime starting linebacker Nick Barnett.
A first round draft pick in 2003 out of Oregon State, Nick Barnett helped to anchor the linebackers for nigh on eight seasons, and became one of the leaders of the defense. While no one can forget what Barnett brought to the team, some can say this: he did need to be let go.
Well, to begin, Barnett has been on a steady decline within the last few seasons. He has dealt with injuries the last three seasons, and in 2008 and 2010, he has been placed on injured reserve after tearing his knee ligament and suffering a wrist injury, respectively.
Next is his age. At 30, his age may not be a problem if his injuries did not begin to mount the way they have the last couple of seasons. It was looking as though if Barnett was kept, he would become an injury waiting to happen, and would especially hinder the Packers at linebacker. His his decreased playing time did little to help, and the fact is, if he was kept, as he ages, his injuries will continue to mount and the Packers would be wasting a roster spot.
Perhaps the biggest trump card to releasing Barnett was the emergence of Desmond Bishop that Packer fans have been awaiting for the past few seasons now. After Barnett went down once again with an injury, Bishop performed admirably better than Barnett has. As a result, Bishop was signed to a long term deal, and was guaranteed a starting spot next to AJ Hawk, whom both have the best chemistry among the Green Bay linebacker corps.
Finally, the Packers are a young team. They won the Super Bowl thanks to the number of young, disciplined players like James Starks, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers on their roster. While it is important to have your veteran players to help lead and guide the locker room, Barnett had to perform, and he simply did not perform like other Packer veterans have the last three seasons (i.e., Charles Woodson, Chad Clifton).
With a logjam at inside linebacker with AJ Hawk, Desmond Bishop, and Brandon Chillar, with all three of them recently getting deals, there simply wasn't enough room for Barnett, especially in a back up role. And in today's NFL, it's better to release veterans like Barnett sooner rather than later.
Check out Matt Stein's counterpoint: Why cutting Nick Barnett could come back to haunt them.