RICHMOND – Soon after the Buffalo Bills released him this past February, Nick Barnett’s phone started ringing. A 10-year veteran and starter of all 139 games he had played in in eight seasons with the Packers and two in Buffalo, Barnett could have quickly chosen his next destination.
But having just recently had arthroscopic surgery and stem cell treatments on his right knee, Barnett wasn’t ready to work out for teams. And, he didn’t want to sign with just any team. He wanted to find the perfect fit.
Barnett this week found that fit and on Wednesday night signed with the Washington Redskins on a one-year deal. Barnett saw Washington as the ideal situation for him because defensive coordinator Jim Haslett runs a system that closely resembles the defense Green Bay ran while Barnett played there. Redskins linebackers coach Bob Slowik also served as Barnett’s defensive coordinator with the Packers in 2004. And Barnett has looked up to Redskins inside linebacker London Fletcher all of his career, so the opportunity to join him in Washington, where the Redskins hope to remain atop the NFC East, seemed perfect.
“Looking at the coaching staff, Haslett and Slowik, I played for him in Green Bay, and I think it was a very good fit with them running a very similar scheme to what we had in Green Bay two years ago when I was there. I thought it would be fairly easy to pick up,” Barnett said Thursday after the Redskins’ morning walkthrough. “And the linebackers that we have now, with London Fletcher and [Perry] Riley, it’s a talented bunch, and my goal is to get on the field somehow or some way. So, with this team, up and coming and the way they played last year, I wanted to be a part of a successful team. There were a couple teams that I talked to earlier in the year, in free agency, it just wasn’t a right fit. I don’t want any more 6-10 seasons. So, I wanted to go to a winning team.”
Adding a player of Barnett’s caliber should significantly boost the depth of Washington’s inside linebacker position. Fletcher returns from his third Pro Bowl season, and Riley enters his second full season as a starter. But the depth behind them is questionable. Second-year pro Keenan Robinson could be lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle that will require surgery to repair. That leaves seldom-used Roddrick Muckelroy and journeyman Bryan Kehl as the only other players with realistic chances of making the 53-man roster.
With Fletcher now 38 and coming off of a year in which he battled ankle, hamstring and elbow injuries, the Redskins sought to add an insurance policy in case he goes down. Enter Barnett, who said the defensive concepts and terminology is already very familiar to him.
“It’s almost like you spoke Spanish for two years, stopped speaking and go back, it’s ‘Oh, yeah, I remember those words.’ It’s basically the same terminology,” he said. “They handle the slot different, or the backside Cover 2, there’s different things like that, but it’s very similar and probably 90 percent of the terminology is the same.”
Barnett arrived in Richmond on Tuesday afternoon and went through a workout and physical. Then on Wednesday morning, he had another workout. He then spent the rest of the day at his hotel room, waiting for word on the Redskins’ decision. He said he watched three movies to pass the time.
Then, Wednesday night, the two sides got a deal done. Barnett only served as an observer in Thursday morning’s walk-through, and afterwards went through a workout with strength coach Ray Wright. Barnett said the team’s plan is to ensure that he is in football shape, and then he will be permitted to practice. Then, Barnett aims to have an impact.
Although he has never served as a backup, Barnett said he will take on whatever role the Redskins give him. He said he believes it’s possible to have an impact even if coming off the bench to play.
But Barnett made it clear he’s not settling for anything.
“For me, I feel like, I’m not going to say it’s open competition, but I haven’t settled on a backup role just yet. If a backup role comes about, then that’s the role I take,” Barnett said. “I’m going to go out there and try to push London, and try to push Riley. And that’s what it’s all about: competition, and with that, you get better. So, I’m going out there trying to push them as much as I can and we’ll see what happens. And either way, we’ll have three or four or five good linebackers and we’ll all be interchangeable.”
Although a starting job didn’t appear as readily available as it would have on other teams, Barnett had no hesitation about joining the Redskins. Having witnessed their success from afar, he very much wanted to be a part of it.
“You’ve seen the way they played in the homestretch, and toward the end of the season, they came together and who knows how far they could’ve went if RG didn’t get hurt?” Barnett said. “They have such a great outside linebackers, London in the middle, great D-line, the offense is good and productive. You’ve got a good, young offense. This team could be good for years coming. I have a one-year deal, but I’m hoping to earn some more years here, and that’s my whole goal, to be here for longer.”
Related: Barnett agrees to one-year contract
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.
● Thursday’s second practice is at 3:20 p.m. If you’re headed to Richmond, check our our guide to training camp for tips on getting autographs, where to park and things to do after the session is over.
● Checking in with running back Evan Royster.
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