As we are in the slower part of the 2013 NFL preseason, I thought I’d take another stab at what the Green Bay Packers’ release of linebacker Desmond Bishop is really about and what it means for the Packers in moving forward.
Bishop’s deal with the Minnesota Vikings is for one year at $750,000 with just $50,000 guaranteed. Bishop can earn a total of $1.35 million through bonuses and incentives. This includes $100,000 in roster bonuses, and $500,000 in incentives dependent on his playing time.
Bishop is another in an increasing line of former Packers to sign with the division-rival Vikings. Should he defy the odds and become productive, the Packers, and specifically General Manager Ted Thompson, could face some criticism for being quick to pull the trigger on letting him go before taking a look at him in training camp. Many fans are still riled up that another has crossed the border to the West where they could end up playing well against and sticking it to the Packers. Still, Thompson continues to, and has marched to the beat of his own drum when it comes to doing what he sees as best for the Packers.
The deal that Bishop inked with the Vikings certainly falls into the “low risk” category. If healthy, he would immediately upgrade Minnesota’s linebacking core and defense as a whole. The key there is the “if healthy” part. But if a player of Bishop’s caliber was willing to accept such a deal, why wouldn’t Thompson at least have kicked the tires a bit longer? After all, this was one of the team’s best defensive players just two seasons ago. Sure, he missed all of last season with the torn hamstring, but if the risk was minimal, why send Bish packing? Some will say his ego would not allow him to take a pay cut with the Packers, but the deal he inked with the Vikings has to suggest that he would have been open to at least some discussion.
In recent years, the Packers have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries. Thompson has surely been tested with the constant revolving door that his team has become, at times. Through this adversity, he seems to have learned to take a more proactive approach to protecting against further injury problems. Since winning their latest Super Bowl in 2010, the Packers have been less reluctant to part with veterans who had been dealing with some injuries but seemingly still had some gas left in the tank. Albeit the circumstances were different for each, Greg Jennings and Nick Barnett most recently come to mind.
Just how much is left in Bishop’s tank is still a rather big question mark. His hamstring was completely detached from the bone. That is no small ailment and according to several medical specialists, Bishop’s chances of returning to his 2011 form are not great, even at his young age (he turns 29 in July).
Thompson knows that he is in the best window of opportunity to capture some of the best years that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has left. His decisions need to hinge on getting his most talented players on the field to make that most of that opportunity. While many question just how effective the tandem of A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones can be in the middle, the team clearly feels they are the best options right now. Veterans Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, and second-year linebacker Terrell Manning will all get a chance to have their say in the competition for playing time at inside backer too. Throw in rookie draft picks Nate Palmer and Sam Barrington, and there are a lot of new faces that the Packers need to evaluate.
Thompson simply couldn’t gamble on a big “maybe” in Bishop and take away valuable reps to these other guys. Hawk and Jones have proven to be durable and available week in and week out, if nothing else. Earlier I mentioned the team’s health issues and by the contract they just gave to Jones, it is clear that this team places a high premium on players who can suit up and play on Sundays. In fact, I expect to see some interesting decisions come down with players such as tight end Andrew Quarless and offensive lineman Derek Sherrod, who, like Bishop, both missed all of last season due to injury. Quarless is no lock to make this year’s roster and despite being a first round pick just two years ago, Sherrod may end up a casualty of an unfortunate and nasty injury that could greatly diminish his value.
In addition to making room for the younger and healtier guys to get a look in practice, Thompson also saved an additional $3.5 million in salary cap space by releasing Bishop. Bishop will count $800,000 against the team’s 2013 salary cap. After signing Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to their mega deals this past offseason, the Packers will again be facing some decision for this year’s upcoming free agent crop.
B.J. Raji, James Jones, Jermicheal Finley and Morgan Burnett headline the list with several others such as Ryan Pickett, John Kuhn, Sam Shields and Mike Neal also set to enter free agency after the 2013 season. By not signing any of these players (Shields being an exception as a restricted free agent, but the team held firm on offering just the one-year tender), Thompson is stating that he either plans to let some test the free agent market or he still wants to see what he has in some of them. He also likes to play the “wait and see” game as he evaluates what the team has at some of these positions and as opposed to some of the incumbents. This year’s training camp is going to carry some good story lines as far as position battles go, moreso than in recent years.
Still, and regardless of the player, Thompson has his price on each and he has a history of drawing that line in the sand that he refuses to cross. One thing is certain and that is that the Packers have remained competitive in nearly every season that Thompson has been GM. He’s doing something right and I trust that, at least on paper, he will continue to do so into the future. Even if that means making the unpopular decisions and parting ways with some fan favorites before their playing days are over.
Above all, I am reminded of what has become a popular saying in Green Bay over the past few seasons: In Ted we trust. There are always room for questions, but it still stands to reason that if history repeats itself, the Packers should come out ahead following the Bishop decision. That would most likely put them in the thick of another playoff chase in 2013 and primed to keep more of their core together for sustained success in the next several seasons.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: