How Hawk's return could impact Barnett

News of the Green Bay Packers' contract agreement with linebacker A.J. Hawk begs the next question: What's in store for linebacker Nick Barnett?

Hawk's five-year deal means the Packers have market-level contracts with four veteran inside linebackers: Hawk, Barnett, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar. Hawk and Bishop have the most recent contracts, so it's reasonable to assume the Packers envision them as 2011 starters. Chillar has been a multi-position backup for most of his career. But where does this leave Barnett, who has been a starter since 2003?

There is nothing wrong with depth, but Barnett is scheduled to make $4 million in base salary plus additional bonuses that bring his 2011 compensation to nearly $6 million, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That's not backup money, and it suggests Barnett could either face a contract renegotiation or be elsewhere next season.

On the other hand, it might make sense for the Packers to bring him to training camp for insurance and competition purposes. If desired, they could release him before the start of the season without having to pay his salary and with a minimal hit to the salary cap.

Conventional wisdom has suggested that either Hawk or Barnett would return in 2011. We know Hawk is in. Does that mean Barnett is out? Stay tuned.