Barnett shows winning attitude

Linebacker Nick Barnett turned down a more lucrative future because he likes Ted Thompson's build-from-within approach.

Nick Barnett pounced on this question like he'd pounce on a plodding running back stumbling around the backfield.

The questioner was asking Barnett if Green Bay was a desirable location for NFL players to call home, compared to the big cities and the corresponding nightlife in the league's glamour markets. Before the reporter had finished the question, Barnett was providing a clear answer.

"Tell them to get their focus right," Barnett said. "If that's what you like to do, that's what you like to do. You only have so many years to do this. You can do all that stuff later. I'm here to play football and win some games and try to get me a ring around my finger. That's what I'm here for."

Barnett's words weren't mere lip service. He could have played out this season and hit the free-agent market next year. With his talent on the field — and his looks, intelligence and personality off of it — he could have made many millions more. Instead, Barnett elected to stay in Green Bay.

Not that he'll be hurting for money with a six-year, $35 million contract extension.

"If you love to play football, there's no better place to go than here," Barnett said at his news conference Tuesday announcing the deal. "You've got great fans, great atmosphere. Great facilities. Great coaches. ... Everything is conducive to being a great football team. It's a great place to be if you have a family. If you love to play football, you'd love to play here."

Not that Barnett didn't consider testing the market next year. How could he not? Not with $15 million signing bonuses being tossed around like singles when Pacman Jones visits a Vegas strip club. In the end, though, Barnett showed uncommon loyalty and faith in the program being assembled by general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy.

"It was definitely an option to play the market," he said. "But being a Packer for my career is more important than getting to free agency. I'm just happy to be here for another six years. There's not a lot of players who play for the same team for their whole career, and I'm blessed to have that opportunity."

Barnett praised Thompson for his careful trip through free agency this offseason. While teams around the league, including division rivals Minnesota and Detroit, have spent a lot of money buying free agents, Thompson has focused on keeping the core of his team intact.

Maybe Barnett was just being nice — he had 35 million reasons to give the company line, after all. But if Barnett didn't like the direction this team is heading, he could have played out his contract and found greener pastures next offseason. Or, he could have raised a ruckus, a la Javon Walker and Mike McKenzie, and talked his way into a trade.

"They've been focused on our team, and not focused on other people," Barnett said of Thompson and Co. "A lot of times, you see a lot of GMs waste a lot of money on players that don't pan out that they don't even know. You go out there, and you don't even know this player and you spend a lot of money on them and they come in and they don't add up.

"They've been focused on us, the players in our locker room. The people with big hearts and good personalities and work hard."

Many fans — and some players, no doubt — are frustrated with how Thompson is running the team. But at least Thompson is giving money to the right players, such as Barnett, Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins. It's a far cry from the way Mike Sherman did business, throwing money at slugs such as Cletidus Hunt.

Thompson's plan for the team is clear. Build a young defense, and lock up the key players with long-term contracts. Barnett is happy to be a part of that core group.

"The money is not the issue. It's just the character that I am," he said. "The money doesn't motivate me. I motivate me, winning games motivates me, and that's going to continue to motivate me."

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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