Bishop Irreplaceable, Not Expendable

Bishop (Leon Halip - Getty Images)

Desmond Bishop's spot on the roster seems anything but secure due to the resources poured into the inside linebacker position. Given Bishop's production, it's a hard notion to comprehend when the Packers are spending so much time trying to force fumbles and create a pass rush.

The Green Bay Packers' defense would seem to need Desmond Bishop.

But do the Packers want him?

As Day 3 of last month's NFL Draft was about to begin, a source told Packer Report that Bishop was on the trade block and the Bears and Saints were among the teams interested.

Nothing happened, of course, and Bishop is inching ever closer to getting back on the field after a ruptured hamstring tendon sustained in the preseason opener at San Diego cost him the entire 2012 season. Bishop was held out of Tuesday's organized team activities practice but worked on his own on retreating into coverage, planting and driving forward.

"It's one of those things where, I'm ready, I feel good, but it's better to be on the cautious side than strain it again and be down another five weeks," he said after the Tuesday practice. "So, we're just being cautious."

After biding his time — sometimes impatiently — behind Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk, Bishop emerged as a vital cog on the Packers' defense in 2010 and 2011. On a defense that's among the worst in the NFL at forcing fumbles, Bishop forced three in 2008 and two apiece in 2010 and 2011. His seven career forced fumbles is tied with Clay Matthews for most on the team. Of the other inside linebackers, Hawk has forced two in seven seasons and Brad Jones has forced one in four seasons. Without Bishop last season, the defense forced just eight, with Jones forcing the only one among the inside linebackers.

Bishop also is one of the team's top pass rushers with nine career sacks. Even after missing all of 2012, Bishop's eight sacks over the past three seasons is third on the team behind Matthews (32.5) and B.J. Raji (9.5).

Nonetheless, Bishop's future in Green Bay hardly seems secure, based on the trade talk, depth chart (Jones' three-year, $11.25 million contract and the three draft picks yielded last year to acquire Terrell Manning) and the mixed signals sent by position coach Winston Moss on Tuesday.

"Until he's cleared, we just have to wait and see," Moss said of Bishop regaining his spot in the lineup. "The one thing I would hate to do would be to get into speculation as to if and when he's cleared. Once he's ready to go and he has that opportunity to compete in our room, then we'll cross that bridge. But he's been working hard and so the expectation is at some point in time, he's going to be ready to go — hopefully."

The talk doesn't add up. The Packers have seen their Super Bowl dreams crushed at the hands of the Giants (37-20) in 2011 and 49ers (45-31) in 2012. Those teams combined for 82 points and 999 yards. Surely, a proven playmaker like Bishop would be a major asset for a defense that lacks big-hitting playmakers.

Beyond the sacks and forced fumbles, Bishop's tackles tend to be impact tackles. ProFootballFocus.com has a stat called "stops," which measures tackles that result in an offensive failure, such as a first-and-10 tackle holding that play to 3 yards or less or a third-and-2 tackle stopping the ball-carrier short of the first down. While missing three games with a an injured calf in 2011, Bishop was credited with 43 stops. The other inside linebackers combined for 43. In 2010, despite not replacing the injured Barnett until the fifth game, he led the position group with 37 stops.

Bishop has two years left on a contract that has cap numbers of $4.464 million in 2013 and $4.822 million in 2014. Cutting him before the season would result in a $1.6 million cap hit — which the team could easily absorb. The team has considerable resources tied up in the position, with Hawk (through 2015) receiving $2.21 million guaranteed even while taking a paycut and Jones (through 2015) getting $3 million guaranteed. Moreover, there are the picks yielded to move up to get Manning in the fifth round in 2012 and a seventh-round investment in Sam Barrington, plus special-teams stalwarts Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois.

"It's just motivation to reach my ultimate goal," Bishop said.

Moss has seen that motivation. This time, his comments were anything but tepid.

"This is a guy who is on a mission," Moss said. "He's very, very competitive, and he has this inner strength to where he feeds off the adversity that he's going through. Because he felt that when he first got here, he should have been playing, so he's used that as a chip, and he's been using that to really excel and grow over the past years. But in getting hurt last year, that really set him back. From an attitude standpoint, from a mind-set standpoint, he's a guy that you don't really want to get in his way once he gets back, because he looks like he's definitely dialed in to where when he gets back, he's definitely going to be ready to go."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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