Reporting Grant Paulsen
The Washington Redskins strengthened a thin position Wednesday evening by signing veteran inside linebacker Nick Barnett to a one-year contract.
Barnett, 32, initially worked out for a plethora of Washington’s top executives on Tuesday afternoon before spending part of the following day at the team’s Richmond-based training camp facility. He then signed a deal to join the team as a reserve linebacker at the end of the second day of the Redskins’ courtship.
Adding a proven backup at inside linebacker became important last week when Keenan Robinson suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the first full practice of training camp. Robinson’s several-month recovery means former fourth round pick Roddrick Muckelroy, who has never started an NFL game, has been elevated to a role as London Fletcher’s primary backup.
Fletcher has been the model of durability over the past 14 years. He hasn’t missed a game since breaking into the NFL as a special teams ace in 1998. But now at 38, not having a trustworthy option behind him to begin a season would have been a mistake. Barnett will provide security and comfort the Redskins didn’t have before signing him.
A 10-year veteran who spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Green Bay Packers, Barnett amassed a team-leading 130 and 112 tackles with the Buffalo Bills the past two years. He also managed five sacks, six pass-breakups, four forced fumbles and three interceptions during an extremely productive two-year stay in the AFC. But he spent the offseason recovering from an injury he played through at the end of last season, which likely cost him interest on the open market.
Muckelroy, who the Redskins added to their roster late last season, will provide depth behind Fletcher and Barnett at Washington’s “Mike” linebacking spot. Perry Riley also starts inside, next to Fletcher, in Washington’s 3-4 defense. His backup is 29-year-old journeyman Bryan Kehl, a special teams stalwhart who has tallied four starts in a five-year career.
Riley and Kehl play a position the Redskins call their “Jack” linebacker. The Jack typically is a bit more nimble and athletic than the Mike, often times a bit smaller and faster because Jim Haslett’s defense demands much more out of a Jack linebacker in pass coverage.
Based on how Barnett’s two seasons in Buffalo, the less he was asked to do against the pass the more he thrived. He’s helpful against the run and will serve a nice purpose as a sure-tackler with immense experience (his 139 NFL starts are 134 more than Kehl and Muckelroy combined).