Bottom line a high priority

Nick Barnett cannot make it more clear: He wants to remain as the starting middle linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. Barnett likes playing the position and has played it well the past three seasons. However, moving to the strong-side position to allow rookie Abdul Hodge to start would hurt his negotiating power when he becomes a free agent.

That's at least how Barnett indirectly explained how he feels about the potential move today. Barnett tried to downplay the money-part of moving as he addressed reporters in front his locker, but that is a big reason why he is very stubborn about sliding over to the outside.

"When you go into any job and you're negotiating, you bring your stats," Barnett said. "It's part of that, but it's not all about the money, I'm just here to play football."

Barnett has every right to keep his position, where he has excelled. He was the team's leading tackler last year with a franchise record 194 tackles. He has 490 total tackles in 47 games and has averaged 10.4 tackles per game through his first three seasons.

Barnett said that neither head coach Mike McCarthy nor defensive coordinator Bob Sanders have approached him about moving to the ‘Sam' linebacker position. But fans, coaches and the media have been so impressed with Hodge, who has only been practicing in training camp at the ‘Mike' position behind Barnett, that it has become a popular topic. First-round draft pick A.J. Hawk is the starter at the ‘Will' position and veteran Ben Taylor has been starting at the ‘Sam' position.

"As far as I know, my home is at middle linebacker and I haven't been evicted yet," Barnett said. "I'm paying rent on time and I expect everything to go as follows."

If all goes well for Barnett, he'll be able to remain at middle linebacker this year in order to keep his numbers healthy. The fourth-year pro's contract expires after the 2007 season, meaning a switch to the ‘Sam' position could cost him a lot of money. Last year, Paris Lenon and Na'il Diggs split playing the ‘Sam' positions due to injuries and combined for 124 tackles, no interceptions and 1.5 sacks, far less than Barnett's production.

"Statistically, the Mike will make the most plays," Barnett said. "The ‘Will' will make a lot of plays, too, if you go back and look at the Miami defense and look at that statistically. ‘Sam,' it depends on what offense you face. You might be able to make plays as well. With the 'Mike,' I think you want a guy like myself with good speed to make plays and run sideline to sideline. That is a great home for me. … I don't know why we're even talking about this, really."

Packers coaches say they will play the three best linebackers. Soon, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson will decide on the best three, but for now it is Barnett, Hawk and veteran Ben Taylor. Hodge, however, is making McCarthy and Thompson's the decision difficult.

"On an individual basis, we're very happy with the production that Nick's given us at the middle linebacker position," McCarthy said. "He's been consistent. He is one of our leaders on defense. That's what you're looking for in a ‘Mike' linebacker. As far as the general philosophy, you're always going to do what's in the best interest of the football team. I understand how Nick feels. Frankly, when decisions have to be made on what to do with the football team, we'll obviously talk to the players first. I think a lot of that is unnecessary. He'll be the first to know if there is a consideration of a position change."

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