The Green Bay Packers have their defense looking like it could rise to an elite level in 2022 after re-signing a few key free agents and investing both of their first-round draft picks in premium rookie defenders this offseason. That said, the influx of talent could also make one of their former starters a valuable trade asset.
Third-year inside linebacker Krys Barnes has developed into a notable contributor for the Packers since signing with them in 2020, rising from undrafted obscurity as a rookie to become a 23-game starter over the past two seasons. He was essentially a life-saver for them in his first season when veteran Christian Kirksey — the free agent signed to replace Blake Martinez — landed on injured reserve for five games with a pectoral injury.
The Packers, however, lucked into an absolute steal in 2021 with De’Vondre Campbell and used their first pick in the 2022 NFL draft to select Georgia standout Quay Walker, leaving some — like Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski — to question his place in the new status quo and wonder if he might be better used as a trade chip for the team.
Here’s why Sobleski thinks the Packers could move Barnes in a trade along with his rationale for picking out the Houston Texans as a realistic trade partner for them:
Barnes isn’t consistent with his angles as a run- or pass-defender. Still, he’s 24 years old with 23 starts since 2020.
His age and experience, coupled with a need at linebacker, should make him an attractive option for the Houston Texans, if the Packers decide to cut ties with Barnes altogether.
The Texans are running it back with Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Neville Hewitt as their top three linebackers. Kirksey, in particular, hasn’t been the same since 2018 when injuries took hold. The soon-to-be 30-year-old missed four or more games in each of the last four seasons. Barnes played in all but one game a year ago.
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Barnes Has Become More Expendable in 2022
Barnes has been impressive over his first two seasons with the Packers, enough to give him solid trade value in the event the Packers decide to move him. After starting off as an undrafted free agent who missed the 53-man roster cut in 2020, Barnes was retained for the practice squad and received an active-roster contract before the season opener, making his NFL debut as a starter for the Packers and finishing with seven total tackles.
By the end of his rookie season, Barnes had become a more trusted inside linebacker than Kirksey, who missed a number of games with a pectoral injury. He started in a total of 12 games — including both playoff matchups — and would have likely started in more if not for a three-game stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list, finishing his first NFL season with 93 total tackles, five tackles for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Barnes remained a starter in his second season with the Packers, but the breakout campaign of Campbell pushed him to the backburner as the No. 2 inside linebacker and made his impact feel like more of an aftershock in 2021. While he finished with career-highs in solo tackles (58), pass deflections (four) and fumble recoveries (two), it was less noticeable in the shadow of Campbell’s 147 total tackles.
The Packers made the easy decision to tender Barnes as an exclusive rights free agent earlier in the 2022 offseason, even as they worked out a five-year, $50 million extension with Campbell for the long-term future. He was still a solid contributor who could be a promising partner for their All-Pro in the middle of their defense, but his standing with the team was altered when the Packers used their first of two first-round 2022 draft picks on Walker.
While Barnes could still play his heart out in camp and hold onto his No. 2 spot, it is likely Green Bay will bump him to No. 3 in favor of its first-round rookie as they did during OTAs. And if that’s the case, he will most likely have to put his energy into being a special teams ace in 2022.
Walker Looks Promising Early in Camp
The Packers are less than one full week into camp practices, but Walker — the No. 22 overall pick in the 2022 draft — is already starting to show off some of the athleticism that drew the team to him in the first place. Media in attendance have noted some of the pass breakups and interceptions he has recorded in the first several sessions, while they have even gotten him some reps off the edge while moving Rashan Gary around.
The edge-rushing duties aren’t likely to become more than an occasional/experimental thing for Walker, but there’s no denying his versatility and potential to be a three-down complement alongside Campbell in the middle of the defense. He is also keeping the right mentality through his first camp with the Packers, staying humble and looking to improve in every way he can.
“I think I need to improve on everything, to be honest with you,” Walker told reporters on July 30. “I don’t like to brag on myself and keep high hopes. I’m just trying to keep a level head and stay neutral at all times. I haven’t played a game yet, so just trying to go from there.”
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