PALM BEACH, Fla. – There are those who believe the Green Bay Packers made a mistake in releasing veteran inside linebacker Nick Barnett last year following the lockout. And judging by the way Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey spoke of him at Tuesday’s AFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL Meetings, Gailey believes those folks are right.
Barnett, the Packers’ 2003 first-round pick who played in just four games in 2010 before landing on season-ending injured reserve with a broken wrist, started all 16 games for the Bills in 2011, registering 130 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
“Nick Barnett played extremely well. If we’d have won more football games, he’d probably have been in the Pro Bowl because his statistics matched up with a bunch of the guys who went to the Pro Bowl,” Gailey said at The Breakers resort on Tuesday. “I feel like he got his feet wet, so to speak, in Buffalo, and I think this year he’ll have a better year than he did last year – and last year he played extremely well. And he’ll feel more comfortable about being a leader. He’ll feel a lot more comfortable about a lot of things this year. “
Barnett, who turns 31 next month, had two years left on a six-year, $35 million contract when the Packers cut him after the lockout ended, saving them his 5.5 million base salary in 2011 and $6 million base salary in 2012. Before the lockout, the Packers cut and then re-signed A.J. Hawk, their 2006 first-round pick, and went with Hawk and Desmond Bishop as their starters inside. One could easily argue that the team would have been better off with Barnett and Bishop instead.
The Bills signed him to a three-year, $12 million deal that paid him $6 million in guaranteed money on Aug. 5, days after his release.
Gailey said Barnett took on a leadership role in the Bills’ locker room, something he expects him to do in a greater scale this season.
“I don’t care who you are. Peyton (Manning) might be the exception, but most people, it takes a while to find your way around the team,” Gailey said. “And plus, last year was unique because he didn’t have an offseason to get ingrained. He shows up a week into training camp. So that’s another thing that hindered his progress as a leader and feeling comfortable.”
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