Weak Draft Could Help Packers Move Barnett

Assuming Nick Barnett's career is over in Green Bay — and that's not a sure thing — the rise of the spread offense and the resulting lack of middle linebackers could work in the Packers' favor.

If there ever is labor harmony and the NFL's wheeling-and-dealing season can begin, the Green Bay Packers might be able to find a deal in a potential trade of linebacker Nick Barnett.

While 3-4 defensive schemes are en vogue around the NFL, 17 of the league's 32 teams still run 4-3 schemes. And if teams running a 4-3 scheme need a middle linebacker, they won't find much help in the draft.

"The disappointing pro day workout of Illinois' Martez Wilson further magnified the difficulty of unearthing middle linebacker prospects for the 4-3 defensive front," longtime NFL writer Len Pasquarelli wrote last week. "While he clocked an eye-opening 40-yard time at the Combine last month (4.49), Wilson apparently was fairly unimpressive in drills at his pro day and, according to scouts present for the audition, seemed to lack solid movement skills in position-specific work."

With spread offenses taking over the college game, fewer schools are running 4-3 defenses. That means fewer ready-made 4-3 middle linebackers.

The last seven drafts have produced only two 4-3 middle linebackers in the first round, Rolando McClain (Oakland) in 2010 and Jonathan Vilma (New York Jets) in 2004. There was some feeling, before his pro day, that Wilson would be the third. But that might not be the case now.

Thus, Barnett could be in demand, under the assumption that the Packers will go with the lower-priced Brandon Chillar as the top backup inside. Barnett is coming off two season-ending injuries in three years, but the wrist injury he suffered against Detroit in Week 4 of this past season is the same injury that Brian Urlacher suffered against Green Bay in 2009. In 2010, Urlacher was back in form with a team-high 141 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 13 pass breakup, so the health issues with Barnett probably are overblown. In fact, he missed just two games in his other six seasons.

Barnett was at his best in the Packers' old 4-3 scheme. He was a second-team All-Pro in 2007 and set the single-season franchise record with 194 tackles in 2005.

A handful of teams could use a middle linebacker, including NFC playoff contenders New York and Tampa Bay, as well as Denver. Tennessee might need one too if it can't re-sign Stephen Tulloch.

What could the Packers expect in a trade? Barnett is due total compensation of $12.6 million in 2011 and 2012, a figure that might be too hard for teams to swallow. His new team could always renegotiate, but with Barnett set to turn 30 in May, a long-term contract might not be in that team's best interests.

So, the answer is, probably not nearly as much as a guy with more than 1,000 career tackles should fetch but the Packers should be able to find a trade partner and not simply have to release Barnett and get nothing at all in return.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.

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