Bills sign LB Barnett to three-year deal

Having been only with one team for eight years, linebacker Nick Barnett didn’t know what to make of the Buffalo Bills when they invited him for a visit shortly after he had been released by the Green Bay Packers.

The more Barnett learned about the team and community, the better he liked it by signing a three-year, $12 million contract on Sunday.

”I like where this team’s headed,” Barnett said after watching the Bills night practice at their training camp facility in suburban Rochester. ”You’ve got a lot of potential on that defense. The schematics are very similar to what we did in Green Bay. I thought it was a perfect fit for me.”

A person familiar with the contract provided The Associated Press the monetary terms, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the amount.

The deal came two days after Barnett was released by the Packers.

And it was reached hours after the eight-year veteran attended Buffalo’s morning walkthrough. The player spent much of the session chatting with assistant coach Dave Wannstedt, who doubles as the team’s inside linebackers coach.

Barnett is familiar with Buffalo’s outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders, who was his defensive coordinator in Green Bay. He played at Oregon State with Bills defensive end Dwan Edwards. And then there was the chance to play alongside outside linebacker Shawne Merriman.

”We had Clay (Matthews) in Green Bay, and Shawne Merriman’s every bit as good if not better than Clay,” Barnett said. ”And that’s not a bash on (Matthews). I think Shawne’s a great player.”

Merriman was already anticipating Barnett’s addition after the morning walkthrough.

”He’s a special kind of player and you can’t help but be excited about the possibility of playing with him,” Merriman said.

Barnett’s addition replaces the loss of returning starter Paul Posluszny, who signed with Jacksonville last week.

It’s the latest change to a defense that finished last against the run last year, while also giving up an average of 26.5 points. It was a patchwork and injury-filled unit that took much of the blame for the team’s 4-12 mark.

General manager Buddy Nix jumped at the opportunity to sign Barnett. Nix noted he had always been a fan of Barnett, going back to the player’s draft year in 2003.

”I’m about eight years late,” said Nix, who was with the San Diego Chargers at the time. ”I tried to take him in ’03, but (Green Bay) took him a pick before. It took eight years, but we did get him.”

Barnett was a cornerstone of the Packers’ defense since being drafted in the first round out of Oregon State. Injuries, however, have limited his performance and he’s ended two of the past three seasons on injured reserve.

An injury to his right wrist limited him to only four games last year. His 2008 season was cut short following a right knee injury.

Barnett had a solid season in 2009, when he had a career-best four sacks, while being credited with 105 tackles. Overall, he has 15 1/2 sacks and nine interceptions in 107 career games.

Under NFL rules regarding veteran free agents this offseason, Barnett will not be allowed to practice with the team until the collective bargaining agreement is formally ratified. That is expected to occur by Thursday.

Shortly after signing the contract, Barnett made his way on the field to watch his new teammates practice. Several fans immediately recognized him and began chanting his name, while a few asked to see the 2011 Super Bowl ring that flashed on his hand.

Barnett responded with a fist pump and a smile to the crowd. He then made his way up the sideline, where he was greeted by both Merriman and Wannstedt.

Barnett’s release by the Packers was not a surprise. Scheduled to make more than $5 million this season, Barnett proved to be the odd-man out, especially after the Packers reworked linebacker A.J. Hawk’s deal in March.

Barnett also proved to be a distraction in Green Bay. In January, he and tight end Jermichael Finley had complained on Twitter that injured players weren’t going to be allowed in a team photo scheduled to be taken days before the Super Bowl in Dallas. The Packers eventually relented and allowed the injured players to take part in the photo session.

The Bills announced the NFL awarded their claim to defensive end Lionel Dotson, a day after he was waived by the Miami Dolphins. Dotson appeared in seven games over three seasons with Miami after being selected in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.

The Bills also released defensive end Jordan Topp, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette.