Packers have logjam at linebacker

Posted Jan. 08, 2011 @ 12:15 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Just what the Packers needed: another balls-to-the-wall, big-play linebacker.

Don't look now, but hot on the heels of an eye-opening performance in Green Bay's playoff-clinching victory over the Bears by street pickup Erik Walden (two sacks and a Packers 2010 single-game high of 16 tackles, per coaches' film review), the Packers appear to have an embarrassment of riches at the LB position.

Both inside and outside.

Inside, team insiders were not too surprised when the Packers' powers-that-be decided to make fourth-year pro Desmond Bishop a lot richer a few days after the victory over Chicago when they signed him to a four-year, $19 million contract extension.

Bishop's new deal culminated a whirlwind turn of events, considering that he seriously thought about asking for a trade before the season because he felt he had no future stuck behind starting ILBs Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. But when Barnett went down for the count in Week Four with a season-ending wrist injury, Bishop wasted no time at all excelling in Barnett's place. After he finished the regular season with 121 tackles (second-most on the team behind Hawk, per coaches' review), three sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown, GM Ted Thompson assured Bishop of likely starting status for a long time to come, signing him to a deal that averages the same $4.75 million as the four-year deal that fellow ILB Brandon Chillar signed late last season.

Can the Packers realistically hold on to four pretty high-priced inside 'backers in Bishop, Chillar, Barnett and Hawk after this season?

The way we hear it, the odds are growing that either Barnett or Hawk, who has one year left on his contract at $10 million, will be regretfully sent packing.

At outside linebacker, meanwhile, it all of a sudden seems like a major logjam has developed at the spot opposite Pro Bowler Clay Matthews involving Brad Jones, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week Seven and was put on I.R.; undrafted rookie Frank Zombo, who was doing a nice job replacing Jones before hurting his knee; and Walden, who did an unbelievable job replacing Zombo in the Packers' most important game of the season.

It's a dilemma, all right, but one the Packers are more than willing to put up with for the time being.