Free Agency 2011 – Landing Spots for Nick Barnett?

| July 26, 2011

With Free Agency now a reality and the rules established, teams are scrambling to get themselves under the new salary cap (2010 was an uncapped season, remember). Cap casualties are happening all over the league, and it’s put some very legitimate playmakers on the open market.
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Let’s take a look at one of them, Nick Barnett.

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Barnett has been an impressive linebacker for the Packers for years, but the reason he is of particular interest to this free agency period is his 2009 season.
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I was one of many that questioned Green Bay’s transition to the 3-4 defense, working on the basis that is was a lousy fit for their best players (Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett) in the front seven. Well, I was half right. Kampman struggled with his hand out of the dirt and was clearly a more natural pass rusher when he could coil in a three-point stance. Where I was wide of the mark however was with Nick Barnett, who flourished in the new system as well as he ever did in a 4-3.
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In 2009 Barnett was our 3rd ranked ILB, narrowly beaten by Ray Lewis with only Patrick Willis putting any distance between them at the top of the rankings. Barnett was able to score well in all phases of the game, blitzing well, covering well and showing strongly against the run. He registered pressure every 6.5 snaps blitzing (a very good mark), allowed 68.5% of passes into his coverage to be complete (5th among full-time starting ILBs) for just 7.4 yards per completion (3rd). His 52 defensive stops were also good enough to place him in the top 10, as was pretty much every number we record at PFF. Far from struggling in the new system, it seemed Barnett was actually highlighted because of his versatility.
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With his cap number deemed too much to accommodate in Green Bay, linebacker-needy teams suddenly have a new option to look at. Let’s talk about five teams that might be picking up the phone.
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Detroit Lions

Why it will happen

The Lions have some holes at linebacker, and they need to fill them if defensive front is going to be much use at all. Barnett is an experienced MLB who would allow them to move settle on a position for DeAndre Levy by default. There’s also nothing quite like getting better by robbing your divisional rivals, and Barnett would get two chances a season to show the Packers they really should have kept him over AJ Hawk.

Why it won’t

The Lions might have better places to spend the money and potentially cheaper targets for their linebacker role (Keith Bullock is a name that comes up). He was shown the door because of dollars and it might be dollars that keeps him away from Detroit.
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Philadelphia Eagles

Why it will happen

The Eagles are once again on the prowl for linebackers, and Barnett has already suggested through twitter that Philadelphia is a destination he would approve of. The Eagles play defense the way Barnett would enjoy, and it would allow him to showcase all of his skills, rather than be locked into a rigid role just playing downhill or in coverage.

Why it won’t

The Eagles have bigger fish to fry, with a dire need at corner to address. They have some talented linebackers in-house and could look to one of them to fix the hole rather than leaning on free agency when they can look for cornerback help there instead.
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Kansas City Chiefs

Why it will happen

The Chiefs need help at ILB in their 3-4 scheme. They addressed their need at OLB in the draft, with Mike Vrabel retiring, and struggling to regain younger form even when he was playing for them, but their hole inside still needs fixing. Arguably Barnett’s best season came inside in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme, and he would be a nice fit next to Derrick Johnson.

Why it won’t

The Chiefs don’t seem to notice they have a problem at ILB, and have even amplified it by benching their only viable ILB in Derrick Johnson in the past. Scott Pioli is also all about building through the draft rather than free agency, and he might not go for the move.
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Cleveland Browns

Why it’ll happen

The Browns are changing their defensive scheme with a new coaching staff and unloading all the players that don’t fit, regardless of how well they actually played in 2009. With little established presence in the 4-3 Barnett would allow them a building block around which to build and add some of their young players without being totally overwhelmed to begin with.

Why it won’t

If you’re blowing things up and starting from scratch there’s a school of thought that you might be better off blooding everybody at once, take the lumps early and hope they all develop together. They might choose to go with unproven youth rather than bring in the veteran.
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Buffalo Bills

Why it’ll happen

Buffalo has a ton of cap space that they will be forced to spend to meet the new salary cap floor, and Barnett would give them a player with the position flexibility to seamlessly transition between 4-3 and 3-4 looks, since the Bills themselves can’t seem to decide which they want to run. With Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus, Barnett all on board the Bills would be a formidable middle in either the 4-3 or 3-4 guise.

Why it won’t

Paul Posluszny is also an unrestricted free agent and might be a better allocation of the Bills’ money, not to mention the various other holes they have to patch up on the roster. They are another side that might find better places to spend the money than Barnett.

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  • jakuvious

    I’m not sure I really agree with your view that the Chiefs have an ILB problem. I definitely don’t agree with the benching of Johnson being relevant at all (since it isn’t going to happen again, and wasn’t just blind idiocy but was a motivational tactic that apparently worked, considering he was subpar prior to 09.) Belcher wasn’t great, but was also not bad in his first season really seeing significant time. I’d be a bit more concerned if he were a 3 or 4 year starter now, but he isn’t. He’s a 2 year pro out of a small school (Maine) transitioning from playing DE in a 4-3 to ILB in a 3-4. He isn’t great in coverage, but he was a decent run defender and a good pass rusher for us last year. Barnett could definitely help as a mentor, veteran backup, and a player who could be in a rotation, but I don’t agree with any diagnosis that says we have a problem at ILB yet.