Connor Barwin was not among the first wave of new players the Eagles signed last offseason.
On the first day of free agency, the team added five new players, three of whom ended up starting games on defense (Isaac Sopoaga, Bradley Fletcher and Patrick Chung).
But with Barwin, the Eagles waited to see how the market played out. They had him on their list, but Howie Roseman wasn't sure what the demand would be for the outside linebacker. Barwin followed up an 11.5-sack season in 2011 with just three sacks in 2012. Clearly, teams were not convinced he was an elite pass-rusher, and so the Eagles saw a chance to pounce, signing the 26-year-old to a deal that included $8 million in guaranteed money.
Barwin ended up being one of the Eagles' best free-agent acquisitions. He provided leadership, energy and was by all accounts a great teammate. In terms of production, he was arguably the Eagles' most consistent defender.
The key word with Barwin is versatility. Using Pro Football Focus' numbers, we looked at the 31 3-4 outside linebackers who played at least 500 snaps last year to see how often each was used in coverage. Among that group, only Buffalo's Manny Lawson and the Jets' Calvin Pace dropped with more frequency than Barwin.
|Avg. among 31 OLBs||79.0%||21.0%|
On average (among the 31 players), 3-4 outside linebackers rushed the QB 79 percent of the time on passing downs and dropped just 21 percent.
"Connor makes the scheme go," said defensive coordinator Billy Davis back in December. "I move him around multiple spots. He's inside on the outside on the right, outside on the left, he's inside, he's over at guard. We move him around ‑ the position is called the Jack, the Jack of all trades, is what it was originally named. We move him around and we have different techniques we use with him and he's great with picking them up. If I need an edge set on one side or a certain reroute or chip, Connor is the guy we go to.
"He wears a lot of hats and doesn't get as many rushes as he would like but does a lot of things for the defense that it's unselfish on his part. He would love to be rushing every down and getting more sacks, but he's dropping and doing more other things and never says a word about it."
Part of Barwin's role was directly related to the guy playing the other OLB spot. Trent Cole was new to the position, and while he dropped a fair amount (21.7 percent), he wasn't asked to do nearly as many things as Barwin.
Going forward, the guess here is that Barwin will play a similar role, regardless of who's on the other side. His strength is not as a pure pass-rusher (although it should be noted that Barwin led all OLBs with seven batted passes to go along with his five sacks). His strength really is in his versatility.
If the Eagles feel the same way, it will affect their offseason plans. For starters, whoever is playing right outside linebacker needs to be a big-time pass-rusher, and versatility isn't as important. Number two, the Eagles are in desperate need of depth. They have to find someone in the coming months who can back Barwin up if he gets injured.
Those are offseason priorities in the months ahead, but Barwin's role seems pretty defined going forward.
WHAT YOU MISSED
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The Eagles could have options in the draft at WR, writes T-Mac.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com thinks Redskins OLB Rob Jackson could be an option for the Eagles:
The Eagles' biggest need this offseason (not to be confused with their most glaring hole) is a stud edge rusher. Rob Jackson is not that guy. However, he is a player with good size who is very good in coverage, plays decent run defense, has a knack for making big plays, and while certainly not a stud rusher, he does have some rush skills.
Les Bowen of the Daily News caught up with Jason Kelce about Michael Sam:
Asked how he thought the Eagles' locker room would react if the Birds drafted Sam, Kelce said: "That's honestly a question I don't know the answer to. I think reactions would be mixed, and that at first certain people would be uncomfortable. However, I do firmly believe that how he was accepted in the long run, and how any player is accepted, really, would come down to his personality and his ability to play the game. I do feel that as long as he was a genuine, good, cool human being, and also played football really well, people would eventually get over the fact that he was homosexual.
"Some guys may never agree with it, but his sexual orientation is only part of who he is as a person, and eventually, who he is as a person and a player will have a greater impact on his acceptance.
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