The Green Bay Packers avoided a potential season-long distraction on Tuesday by signing their starting middle linebacker to a six-year contract extension.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Barnett's deal is worth $35 million, including $12 million in first-year money as the Packers take advantage of their ample space under the salary cap.
Barnett, at a noon news conference at Lambeau Field, was asked about his appreciation for Packers history.
"Right when I signed the deal today, I looked out the window into the Atrium, and I saw those Ray Nitschke (banners in the rafters)," Barnett said. "I have an opportunity to be on one of those when I retire. He made his career here, and it would be nice to go down in the history books as another Nitschke."
One piece of history that will not be repeated is the ugly contract dispute that led to the Packers trading Javon Walker to the Denver Broncos last year.
Barnett had one year remaining on his rookie-year contract. He had spoken of his desire for an extension since last season, but never threatened to hold out.
"Not a knock on their character, but I'm not that type of person," Barnett said. "I had one more year left on my contract. For the benefit of the team, it eventually would benefit me, as well. I'm not trying to force their hand and they're not trying to force mine."
Barnett, who has started 62 of a possible 64 regular-season games during his first four seasons, led the Packers in tackles his first three seasons before being surpassed by A.J. Hawk last year. He would have earned $1.95 million this season on the final year of a five-year, $6 million contract inked after being the Packers' first-round pick in 2003.
"It got moving real quickly this week," Barnett said of the talks between his agent, Chuck Price, and Packers vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt.
Barnett is looking forward to the season. He has spent much of the offseason in Green Bay working out at team facilities. For the first time since joining the Packers, he'll have the same defensive coordinator — Bob Sanders — for a second consecutive year.
"This is the first year I've ever had the same coordinator for two years. Same scheme and all the same players. This is the first year that's ever happened for me," Barnett said. "We've got a lot of consistency going, and I think that's their whole goal (in the front office) is to keep that consistent core of players. Good players with good heart and good personalities."
Barnett fits into that group of good young players. While general manager Ted Thompson has only occasionally signed other teams' players in free agency, he has made it a priority to keep his core players, especially when their best days are ahead of them.
This offseason, for instance, Thompson has kept Cullen Jenkins and Al Harris and is in talks with another restricted free agent, Corey Williams. Last year, it was Aaron Kampman's four-year, $21 million deal that included $11 million in guarantees.
By contrast, most of Barnett's money is in base salary, meaning a heavier toll on this year's cap but softening the blow down the line. Official numbers weren't immediately available from the NFL Players Association, but Barnett is expected to carry a cap number of $7 million in 2007. If that's the case, the Packers are now $14 million under the cap.
Thompson said now was the time to make a deal. Well aware of the insane amount of money thrown around by other teams this offseason, he didn't want Barnett to hit the free market.
Barnett insists the big pay raise and job security — he's signed through 2012 — will not change him.
"I've always put that pressure on myself and always put it on my shoulders that I had to be the best player I can be," Barnett said. "Work harder than anybody that's around. I've always had that kind of pressure. The money, that's not the issue. The money doesn't motivate me. I motivate me. Winning games motivates me.
"The money is nice, though."
Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.