Could Nick Barnett fit with Buccaneers?

Let’s pull out the crystal ball and speculate a bit about what could happen when the lockout ends. Let’s talk about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their situation at middle linebacker.

Barrett Ruud can become a free agent. Although I suspect the Bucs will make an attempt to keep him, I think there’s a good chance Ruud simply might want to move on. He’s been asking for a new contract for several years and nothing ever really came of it. Ruud might want to go somewhere he feels more appreciated. There’s a common assumption the Bucs used a third-round pick on Mason Foster and plan to plug him in immediately as the starting middle linebacker.

That could happen, but I’m going to throw out another scenario and another name: Nick Barnett. He’s currently property of the Packers, but there’s league-wide speculation that Barnett could be released or traded as soon as the lockout ends. He’s coming off a season in which he suffered a wrist injury and played in only four games. He’s expendable in Green Bay, but he could be valuable in Tampa Bay.

Barnett is 30, which falls somewhere between old and young. The Bucs are in a youth movement and throwing Foster into the mix wouldn’t be totally out of character. But making a third-round pick the quarterback of your defense without an offseason to prepare could be a little dangerous. The Bucs are very young on the defensive line and could have some other changes at linebacker.

That’s why it could make some sense to bring in Barnett or a guy like him. Barnett was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2007 and had some very good seasons with the Packers. He could provide some instant stability and leadership for a Tampa Bay defense that’s still looking to catch up to its offense.

Once the lockout is over, keep an eye on this one.