The Packers appear to be on the verge of releasing another inside linebacker from the roster in seven-year veteran Desmond Bishop. This moves comes shortly after the team waived linebacker D.J. Smith, who replaced an injured Bishop last season before tearing his ACL against the Houston Texans in Week 6.
It appears both linebackers haven't fully returned to the players that they once were, and the Packers front office has decided to trust its young unproven players to provide valuable back-up minutes behind A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. This would be quite a gamble, considering Dezman Moses (445 snaps) is the only reserve linebacker who played double digit snaps last season. Robert Francois (169) and Jamari Lattimore (30) also played regular season snaps at the tail end of the 2011 season.
Moses has appeared exclusively on the outside, which makes Francois the most experienced at the inside linebacker position, and it appears there will be a healthy competition between Francois, Lattimore, and second-year linebacker Terrell Manning for the reserve minutes.
Ted Thompson likes to place his faith in young, developing players that he drafted. While this sign of loyalty is admirable, it can backfire on a team without any veteran experience. If the Packers do indeed part ways with Desmond Bishop, that may leave an open spot to add a cheap veteran free agent to the training camp roster.
Here's a look at the top 5 free agent inside linebackers still available, according to Pro Football Talk's overall ratings, which accounts for plays against the run, pass rush efficiency, pass coverage, and penalties.
1. Nick Barnett (6'2 - 240 pounds - Age 32)
- Barnett finished the 2012 season with a +6.0 overall rating (+6.4 against the run, -4.0 pass rush efficiency, and +1.9 pass coverage). Barnett recorded 97 total tackles in 2012, and 112 total tackles in 2011 with the Buffalo Bills after being released by the Packers after suffering a season-ending wrist injury against the Detroit Lions in week 4 of the 2010 season. Barnett has put together two complete healthy seasons of productive football with a below average team. While his pass rushing efficiency numbers are alarming, his numbers against the run would have finished second on Packers team last season behind Brad Jones (+8.0). Barnett returning to Green Bay, where he already has 788 total tackles in his career, would be a great story. As long as Nick Barnett and the Packers front office are still on good terms, this move would make more sense than most.
2. Bart Scott (6'2 - 242 pounds - Age 32)
- Scott finished the 2012 season with a +1.1 overall rating (+0.6 agains the run, +1.5 pass rush efficiency, and -0.1 in pass coverage). He recorded 56 total tackles in 2012, after seven consecutive seasons with 50+ tackles with the Jets and Ravens. Scott has been a model of consistency and reliability during his career, only missing one game since 2005, and would provide valuable experience. The only question is what his asking price would be, and whether or not he would accept a limited snap count.
3. Demorrio Williams (6'1 - 232 pounds - Age 32)
- Williams finished the 2012 season with a -1.1 overall rating (-2.7 against the run, +0.7 pass rush efficiency, and +0.6 in pass coverage). Williams recorded 36 total tackles and two interceptions in three starts with the San Diego Chargers last season. Williams didn't start a single game in 2011 and 2010, after recording 117 tackles with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Williams would be a liability in short-yardage situations, but wouldn't be a bad option as a pass rush specialist or a third-down linebacker in place of A.J. Hawk, who was (-2.5) in pass coverage last season.
4. Takeo Spikes (6'2 - 238 pounds - Age 36)
- Spikes finished the 2012 season with a -1.8 overall rating (+0.4 against the run, +0.9 pass rush efficiency, -1.8 in pass coverage, and took 2 penalties). Spikes recorded 78 total tackles with the San Diego Chargers last season, and has recorded 70+ total tackles in the previous seven seasons dating back to 2006. Spikes isn't as quick as he used to be (15 seasons in the NFL will do that to a man), but if Ted Thompson can bring in a veteran for training camp at a dirt cheap price, Spikes would be a good option. He would be able to provide veteran knowledge to a core of players who were in elementary school when Spikes was drafted out of Auburn in 1998.
5. Bradie James (6'2 - 240 pounds - Age 32)
- James finished the 2012 season with a -2.2 overall rating (+0.5 against the run, -0.9 pass rush efficiency, +0.2 in pass coverage, and took 4 penalties). James recorded 77 total tackles with the Houston Texans last season, and recorded over 100 tackles in each season with the Dallas Cowboys from 2006 to 2010. James has shown flashes of Pro Bowl potential when he teamed up with Demarcus Ware in Dallas, and would be a proven commodity at a position that has no proven players in the reserve ranks. The big question, much like Bart Scott, is what is his asking price and would he accept a role with limited snaps.
The Packers aren't going to dish out a lot of money for a linebacker over 30 years old. If they do decide to add a veteran free agent linebacker it will probably be to whoever is the most willing to join the team at a discounted price. We'll see which direction the Packers decide to go in the coming weeks, but we won't be surprised if news leaks that Ted Thompson is kicking a few old tires in the free agent market before training camp starts.