With 200-plus tackles, eight sacks, 10 passes defensed, and one Lombardi Trophy hoisted over a mostly-spectacular first 25 games started from 2010 to 2011, most analysts predicted it wouldn’t be long before Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop ascended to the elite among his position, earning more than an alternate Pro Bowl bid along the way.
He was on the cusp of being considered among the best linebackers in the NFC and it was only a matter of time until he certainly got a shot to lead an all-star defense assembled in Honolulu – as a starter.
Bishop’s aggressive demeanor and high motor were a perfect fit opposite linebacker Clay Matthews in the resurgent Packers defense. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy saw something special in the ex-California Berkeley run-stopper and following a dominant 2011 Bishop signed a new 4-year, $19 million extension. All would be right for Green Bay at linebacker for the next half decade.
Then, like the crack of a rifle, in a split second that outlook completely changed.
On a muggy 2012 August evening during a meaningless exhibition game Bishop crumpled to the turf with a savagely torn hamstring. The devastating injury robbed him of a chance to build on his 2011 Pro Bowl campaign, the gaudy statistics, the Super Bowl glory and the multitude of personal milestones he’d undoubtedly set while cementing himself as the next great green and gold goliath at linebacker.
The decision by Thompson to release the promising defender in early June sent ripples of disappointment through Packerland. But given the injury history of former Green Bay (and current free agent) linebacker Nick Barnett, and given the salary ramifications and his uncertain role in the defense, the writing was on the wall likely not long after that explosive fibrous gunshot through the bowels of Qualcomm Stadium.
In retrospect, it all makes sense.
After his release, some analysts quickly predicted an obvious landing spot for Bishop, a place where droves of ex-Packers have ventured in a futile attempt at relevance:
Upon further inspection, the Vikings had more than just the surface appeal of being Green Bay’s biggest rival. They had a legitimate vacancy at linebacker after having failed to select a younger player out of college in the NFL Draft back in April. In the land of ten thousand lakes, playing time could be found. And with it, a possible lucrative payday. Bishop reportedly drew interest from Kansas City, the New York Giants, Jacksonville and San Francisco. Ultimately, he chose the Vikings. But he didn’t focus on the traditional revenge-driven angle that some former Green Bay stars have on their way across I-90.
Despite popular belief the choice wasn’t initially as clear-cut as we were led to believe. Not if you ask Bishop himself.
In an interview with Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on June 24, Bishop elaborated that he understood why Green Bay made the decision to release him. He said there were no hard feelings toward the Packers and that he acknowledged coming back from a completely torn muscle was a difficult proposition, albeit an uncertain one.
Interestingly, he said he realized it was a numbers game. And he’s right.
Anybody who followed the money knew Green Bay wouldn’t keep three linebackers while paying them each starter-caliber salaries only to play two of them at a given time in their oft-shifting 3-4 base defensive scheme. So somebody, then, would be the odd man out in the financial game of musical chairs in Green Bay. A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones restructured and negotiated new contracts, respectively. Which left Bishop ostensibly standing when the music stopped.
Bishop said that he also understands the game is a business, too.
“It was really just a numbers game, I suppose,” Bishop said. “You know, it’s a lot of uncertainty with me coming back off this injury, and the two guys who played – A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones – they did a really good job last year, so Brad was up (for a new contract), so they had to make a move with him, and I guess they went with the sure bet. He had a big year, he was healthy, and me on the other hand was coming off a serious injury. And there’s not a lot of history on the recovery of these things so I guess they went with the safe bet which is understandable from a business standpoint, so I don’t hold nothing against them.”
Desmond Bishop appears to be taking the high road and isn’t making public any personal disdain that he may harbor toward the Green Bay organization regarding his release. What he did say, however, was that signing with Minnesota offers him a chance to elevate his game by facing off twice a year against the best competition- and player- in the NFL. Who exactly was he referring to?
None other than Aaron Rodgers, of course.
Bishop said it’s not about being better than the Packers or having a shot to gain redemption, unlike some former players who bolted to the Vikings primed largely by revenge. “It’s not about that. I think it’s more so, trying to play the best and if I can get a chance to play against Aaron Rodgers, I think that right there, in itself, is a motivation.”
Ultimately, who can blame Bishop for being motivated to line up across from the best player on the planet at least twice per season for the foreseeable future? We know this: the move wasn’t purely financial. Bishop’s deal is for one year with a maximum value of $1.35 million. Not shepherd’s wages, to be sure. But Bishop understands that 2013 is a critical crossroads for him in his career.
It’s clear at this stage that Bishop will have to regain his health and hold up over the course of a demanding slate while playing a significant amount of snaps for the Vikings in order to earn a long-term payday next season. If all goes according to plan. But there are no guarantees.
Minnesota, while a surprise playoff qualifier in 2012, is hardly a lock to make the postseason again. Given the parity in the NFL, it would seem plausible that the Vikings will regress to the mean, statistically-speaking, in 2013.
How much can they continue to count on and benefit from the one-man offense of Adrian Peterson who arguably had an all-time type of season in 2012? They also lost receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle and acquired another injury liability in Greg Jennings from you know where. They have holes and question marks at multiple positions across the roster. Bishop’s acquisition, on paper, is low risk. But it also appears to be an attempt to revamp their linebacker unit for the short-term while giving fans the added bonus of a meaningful game against an elite Green Bay team at least twice a year. The rivalry aspect of this rivalry certainly means more to Minnesota. From a numbers standpoint it’s already a win for them.
For Viking fans in 2013, Oct. 27 and Nov. 24 may just be the pinnacle of their year.