The Green Bay Packers solved one of their linebacker issues on Tuesday by signing Desmond Bishop to a contract extension.
But the question now is what happens to the rest of the insider linebackers.
Bishopís four-year, $19 million contract extension, which was confirmed by an NFL source but not announced by the team, should ensure that he will be a starter next season. What that means for Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk is unknown, but it could mean one or both wonít be back with the team next season.
Bishop moved into a starting role in Week 5 after Barnett sustained a season-ending wrist injury. The fourth-year pro, who previously hadnít played a regular role on defense, flourished as a starter. He finished the regular season second on the team in tackles with 121 and had three sacks to earn the first significant pay day of his pro career.
He had been playing under the contract he signed as a rookie in 2007, when he was a sixth-round pick. That deal contained a signing bonus of just $439,800 and minimum base salaries. He didnít even reach the fourth-year escalator that would have increased his pay for 2010 to the low restricted free agent tender of $1.101 million because he didnít meet the playing-time minimums, so his base for this season remained at $550,000.
Itís unclear how his new deal is structured, but now the 26-year-old is under contract through the 2014 season.
With Bishop expected to keep his starting job, the Packers will have to decide whether to go with Barnett, Hawk or someone else at the other inside spot. Barnett has a base salary of $5.5 million next season plus roster and workout bonuses that total $550,000. He will turn 30 this offseason and has finished two of the last three seasons on injured reserve.
Hawkís role also expanded this season after injuries to Barnett and Brandon Chillar. The former No. 5 overall draft pick became the defensive signal caller and has had one of the better seasons of his five-year career. At age 26 (he will be 27 on Sunday), heís younger than Barnett and hasnít missed a game in his pro career.
But Hawk almost certainly will have to redo his contract in order to return. The final year of his contract calls for his base salary of $10 million to become guaranteed on the first day of the 2011 league year. The exact date of that is unknown because there is not currently a collective bargaining agreement in place for next season but whenever that date is, thereís almost no chance the Packers will want to guarantee Hawk that kind of money.
Itís unclear whether Hawk would be willing to return at a reduced salary or would rather play for another team.