Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Release of Bishop Puzzling

By: Matt Bove

The Packers officially announced yesterday that they released inside linebacker Desmond Bishop.

Bishop finished his Packers career with 310 tackles, nine sacks, seven forced fumbles, and one interception.

They are losing a great presence on and off the field. Not only was Bishop great on the field, but he was also one of the team's biggest leaders. After the debacle against San Francisco in the Divisional round of the playoffs last season, Bishop was one of the few defensive players to meet with the media at locker clean outs and he did not even play in the game. That speaks to what kind of class act he is.

There were signs that this was coming when the Packers restructured A.J. Hawk's contract to $7.25 million over the next three years, with more than $2 million guaranteed this year. Then, the Packers went out and re-signed Brad Jones to a three-year deal worth $11.75 million, which gave them two players making starters money at ILB. However, if Bishop is healthy, there is no way in the world that he is not the superior player to either Hawk or Jones.

Bishop played excellent in his first year as a starter in 2010 and was a key player in the Packers' Super Bowl run. He finished the regular season with 103 tackles, three sacks and an interception.

He also made some key plays in the playoffs for the Packers that helped them capture their fourth Lombardi Trophy. In the Wildcard round game at Philadelphia, Bishop made a shoe-string tackle on Desean Jackson- perhaps the fastest receiver in the NFL- to prevent what could have been the game winning touchdown. It was still a 28-yard gain, but Bishop tackled Jackson at the Green Bay 38 by the ankles with only Nick Collins behind him.

Also, Bishop recovered a huge fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV against the Steelers, which might have been the biggest play of the game. The Steelers were driving into Packers territory and had all the momentum until Clay Matthews knocked the ball out of Rashard Mendenhall's hands and Bishop recovered it. The Packers went on to score a touchdown on their ensuing possession.

In 2011, Bishop may have been the best player on a lousy Packers defense. He finished with 115 tackles and five sacks. He was one of the few physical presences on the defense, and he was extremely effective as a blitzer.

Bishop missed the entire 2012 season after rupturing his hamstring in the Aug. 9 preseason opener at San Diego. He did not participate in any of the Packers' OTA or mini-camp practices this spring, but he has insisted that he is 100 percent healthy.

"Its definitely a serious injury but I definitely hit all the points I was supposed to hit as far as getting healthy ," Bishop told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But the tear is 100%. I can do anything and everything."

Whether releasing Bishop was because of the injury or because of a numbers game it makes absolutely no sense.

The Packers are putting a lot of trust into their doctors since they have never seen Bishop on the field since the injury. I do not understand why the Packers would not at least bring Bishop to training camp to see what he looks like? There is absolutely no harm in that. If he doesn't look like the same player you can release him then, but why not see why you have in him first instead of going off blind faith? Sure, you are taking a risk that he gets hurt in camp and you are stuck with him, but sometimes you have to take a risk once in awhile to get a big reward.

The Packers saved $3.46 million in cap room that can help go towards extensions to other players, but that is not a crazy cap number for a guy who if healthy is easily the best inside linebacker on the roster. It's not like the Packers were up against a wall in their cap space either. They could have always released Bishop next offseason if they needed room for an important extension to another player.

Jones and Hawk both had solid years last year, but they are not in Bishop's league in terms of speed, physicality, and blitzing. Also, the Packers went from having outstanding depth at inside linebacker to very questionable depth. Terrell Manning, Jamari Lattimore, Nate Palmer, Robert Francois and Sam Barrington are all unproven players behind Jones and Hawk. If the Packers knew they were releasing Bishop and D.J. Smith then why was inside linebacker not a much bigger priority in the draft?

Jones and Hawk just do not compare to who Seattle and San Francisco have roaming the middle of their defense in Bobby Wagner for Seattle and Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman for San Francisco. I know those aren't teams in the Packers' division, but they are are two great defenses and two main competitions for the Packers to compete with to get to the Meadowlands for Super Bowl XLVIII.

I think a healthy Bishop and Jones would be a great inside linebacker combo for the Packers. Jones' great coverage ability (+4.6 coverage rating from Pro Football Focus) would be a great compliment to Bishop's physicality and blitzing ability.

The problem with playing Jones and Hawk together in the middle is their lack of physicality. For a team who is preaching forced fumbles and physicality this offseason releasing a guy who is very physical and who has forced 8 fumbles in his last 59 games does not go along with that message. Hawk literally has not forced a fumble since the George W. Bush administration. Jones tries to be physical, but he is just a little undersized for the position. That would be o.k. next to a physical player, but not Hawk.

We all pretty much know what Hawk is at this point. He may have had his best season last year, but he still did not make a ton of impact plays. He was also better last season because the Packers kept him on the sidelines on a lot of obvious passing downs. The Packers like him because he knows his assignments inside and out, but he is still just a guy.

I don't know if the Packers can have an elite defense with Hawk and Jones up the middle. Many have suggested that the Packers are coming up with new creative schemes that will involve only one inside linebacker. I will believe that when I see it with Dom Capers still at the helm.

The Packers may be right and Bishop may never be the same player again. They have a great track record of knowing when to let players go and should be given the benefit of the doubt. My main issue with the move is the timing. I just do not see why they could not see what Bishop looked like at training camp before making a decision. Also, since they were knew they were going to release Bishop eventually, why was inside linebacker not a higher priority in the draft? They should have tried to upgrade the position.

According to a tweet from Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press Gazette Bishop is first meeting with the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers better be right that he is finished.

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