This is the part where I say something about the lockout, and something about us consequently making speculation and rumor mongering a passionate hobby. Last Friday we threw a few darts in the dark room that is Matt Hasselbeck’s future, and now we turn our attention to an established veteran on the other side of the ball in a different situation.

The Packers won the Super Bowl for a variety of reasons (Aaron Rodgers, a superb pass rush, a great secondary, the surprising play of James Starks…should I keep going?), but none of them involved linebacker Nick Barnett. That’s because Barnett was on the injured reserve since Week 4 with a wrist injury, and over the past three seasons he’s missed 17 regular season games. He’s now 30 years old, which puts him somewhere in that vague area between being a grizzled veteran and a young, promising talent.

When healthy Barnett is still effective, logging six seasons with at least 100 tackles over his eight-year career. But now he’s becoming expendable in Green Bay because of both his penchant for bone popping and muscle straining, and the Packers’ depth at the linebacker position.

Green Bay’s linebacker corps are spearheaded by Clay Matthews, who finished fourth in the league with 13.5 sacks. The team committed to A.J. Hawk with a long-term deal just prior to the lockout (five years, $33.75 million) and secured Desmond Bishop by handing him a four-year, $19 million extension after he had 103 tackles while filling in for Barnett.

Brad Jones and Brandon Chillar are also coming back from injuries, and the 24-year-old Frank Zombo is emerging and had four sacks last year in limited time. If the cap is $120 million, Green Bay won’t have much wiggle room and could save $4.4 million by cutting Barnett, although I’m sure the Packers will miss his coloring skills.

If and when that happens, teams won’t hesitate to pounce on Barnett despite the injury concerns. One strong possibility is Tampa Bay, a rumor fueled by the potential departure of Barrett Ruud through free agency, and the prospect of having to roll with third-round pick Mason Foster at middle linebacker in a shortened offseason.

Earlier this morning ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas wrote that while throwing Foster into the teeth of the defense right away wouldn’t be out of character for the Buccaneers, it also isn’t ideal.

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.

Last week Bill Williamson, another ESPN voice at Scouts Inc., supported a different destination: San Diego.

“He’s a very solid football player. He’s experienced in the 3-4 on the outside. I still think he has plenty left in the tank. San Diego’s inside linebacker situation is in such a state of flux, it is hard to predict who he would be playing next to on the inside, but I see him more as a weakside inside linebacker that system.”

The Chargers had the best defense in the league last year, allowing an average of 271.6 yards per game and finishing tied for second with 47 sacks. But Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett, and Brandon Siler are all free agents, leaving a potential void that Burnett–an All-Pro in 2007–could slide right into.

And now we return you to our regularly scheduled lockout bickering