Nick Barnett's tenure with the Green Bay Packers could end as soon as the NFL's labor impasse does, but he isn't sure where he stands with the Super Bowl champions -- and likely won't know until the lockout is over.
The veteran linebacker, whose 2010 campaign ended in Week 4 with a broken wrist, has been one of the Packers' finest defenders since his rookie season in 2003, and is just 10 tackles away from John Anderson's team record.
But Barnett has two years remaining on a six-year, $35 million contract, is due $5.5 million in base salary next year and counts $6.9 million against the salary cap. So, after signing linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop to new deals, the Packers will explore trading or releasing Barnett, NFL.com's Steve Wyche reported last month, citing a source close to the situation.
A move can't be made until the league and players agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. Barnett also can't discuss anything football-related with Packers coach Mike McCarthy or anyone else in the organization, leaving him in the dark about his future.
"There's a lot of uncertainty, to be honest," Barnett, who has finished two of the past three seasons on injured reserve, told ESPN Radio Milwaukee on Thursday. "I am under contract with the Packers two more years, but there's been talk of trades -- not necessarily directly to me -- but we'll see what happens. I know I'll be playing football. I'm probably in the best shape I've been in in the last three years. And super hungry and excited to play. I would love to finish my career as a Packer and retire as a Packer and, obviously, break that (tackles) record.
"I'm willing to do a lot of things to be a part of that organization, but it's hard to get the dialogue because of the lockout. We can't get anything going, or any conversations, and see where each other stands. I'm willing to be a Packer and willing to do a lot of things to do it. But we can't talk, so we don't know where we stand."
McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that he'd "have to see how (Barnett) comes off the wrist" injury and that he was very happy with the Hawk-Bishop tandem at inside linebacker.
"If (Hawk) plays the way he did this year, there's no reason he shouldn't be (a three-down player)," McCarthy told the newspaper. "Bishop played very well, too. We line up tomorrow, it's A.J. and Bishop, and that's the way we finished."
Hawk signed a five-year, $33.75 million contract with the Packers on March 3, two months after Bishop, a fourth-year NFL veteran who stepped in as a major contributor after Barnett's wrist injury, received a four-year, $19 million extension.
Barnett, who said he has completely healed from an October surgery to insert pins into his right wrist to reattach a tendon torn off the scaphoid bone, believes the Packers' success was about their depth, and he believes it's important to keep the linebacking corps intact. Brandon Chillar, an inside linebacker coming off shoulder surgery, also might not be in Green Bay's plans, McCarthy told the Journal Sentinel.
"We had those same linebackers last year, and what happens if we don't have that type of depth of good linebackers?" Barnett said. "What happens if they release a couple of us, and one gets hurt? Then they're searching for an inside linebacker. It's all about depth. We made it to the Super Bowl because of depth.
"I think the biggest thing they're worried about is players complaining about playing. If it comes down to that, let the best players play. I don't have any confidence issues. I feel like I can line up and compete with any of those guys and win. I think they're all great players, but I know I know how to play this game. I've been playing a long time. I'm ready to do whatever."
Barnett knows he might have to do whatever elsewhere.
"If I end up on the Packers, I hope I do," he said. "But if I don't, somebody's going to be happy to have me."