Nick Barnett

Barnett will be playing elsewhere in 2011.

With the re-signing of [intlink id="80" type="category"]A.J. Hawk[/intlink] and the declaration that [intlink id="492" type="category"]Desmond Bishop[/intlink] is the Green Bay Packers No. 1 inside linebacker, there doesn’t seem to be much room for [intlink id="139" type="category"]Nick Barnett[/intlink] in Green Bay.

The idea that Barnett would compete with Hawk to start opposite Bishop was floated by coach [intlink id="67" type="category"]Mike McCarthy[/intlink], but the thought is ludicrous. Barnett has a salary cap number north of $6 million for the 2011 season and the Packers wouldn’t have signed Hawk to a five-year deal, worth what is believed to be $6-7 million a year, if they didn’t consider him a starter.

The writing is on the wall.

Steve Wyche is reporting Barnett, who, in 2010, suffered his second season-ending injury in three seasons, will either be traded or released.

Trading Barnett won’t happen until a collective bargaining agreement is reached between the NFL and NFL Players Association, but the eight-year veteran could have value because there aren’t that many quality inside or middle linebackers available in free agency.

If Barnett can’t be traded, the Packers would explore releasing him, the source said.

Scratch that.

The Packers won’t explore releasing Barnett. They will release Barnett if the trade market doesn’t develop.

Although Barnett has been a team leader and a solid performer for much of his career in Green Bay, his production has declined in recent seasons. Even when he was healthy, Barnett didn’t play as well as Bishop did after replacing him in the starting lineup.

Certainly, Barnett is a valuable asset, but $6 million a year isn’t a backup’s salary, meaning he’s a luxury the Packers can’t afford. The only question is when the move will be made.

If the right offer presents itself, and the labor negotiations allow it, Barnett could be traded sooner, rather than later. If not, the Packers could bring Barnett to training camp, showcase his talents in the preseason and wait the situation out.

If the Packers do indeed give Barnett the chance to compete with Hawk, or at least give the impression that’s the case, and both players are motivated, it could make Barnett all the more attractive on the trade market. On the other hand, if Barnett comes into camp and starts complaining, like he did about the Super Bowl team photo on Twitter, he’ll quickly turn into an unwelcome distraction.

Something tells me Barnett’s ill-timed Twitter rant about the team photo sealed his fate with the Packers.

I expect them to explore their opportunities as soon as they’re able to and if nothing materializes, release Barnett before camp begins.