Before the start of the 2017 Free Agency period, there are a litany of Salary Cap casualties and talk of players in Salary Cap trades. Many Packer fans wildly fantasize about acquiring these players without really analyzing fit, cost and recent production. Those players released before the start of Free Agency are commonly referred to as ‘Street Free Agents’ as they are not subject to losing a compensatory pick, since their contract didn’t expire.
Ted Thompson is not only notorious for hording compensatory picks like acorns, but he LOVES street Free Agents. Notable Street Free Agent signings were Julius Peppers, Jared Cook and to a lesser extent, James Jones. The last non-street Free Agent Thompson signed was Letroy Guion.
The one thing Thompson rarely ever does is trade for players. Thompson has 2 trades that didn’t involve a player that lasted more than 2 years on the team or made a significant impact. Those being the Brett Favre trade to the Jets conditional 4th round pick, and the trade for Ryan Grant which sent a conditional 6th round pick to the Giants. Both trades had enormous impacts on the franchise.
Aside from the obvious Rodgers implications, the conditional pick for Favre was used to move up to draft Clay Matthews. The Ryan Grant trade helped solidify an absent running attack during the Favre years that saw Samkon Gado getting snaps. To the ire of most fans, Thompson is frugal to a fault. However, to his credit, when he sees a player he thinks can make an impact on the team, he often acts without hesitation.
That brings us to the recent rumors of the Packers’ interest in Eagles DE/OLB Connor Barwin. Like much of the rumored ‘interest’ the Packers show in Free Agents or players on the trading block, fans have seen this song and dance. This is often times just the Packers kicking the tires seeing what it would it would cost. However, knowing the potential void a Peppers/Perry/Jones departure would create, Thompson might find a decent alternative in the Eagles’ edge rusher. Obviously, every trade has pros and cons, so I attempt to elaborate the cost/benefit to the Packers if they made the deal.
How do the Packers Benefit from Acquiring Connor Barwin?
The Packers are in the unfortunate position of having 3 of their top 4 edge rushers become Free Agents this off-season. While I expect them to sign at least 1 of Perry, Peppers or Jones, I can’t fathom signing all three. Replacing them in the draft is entirely possible, but Thompson hasn’t had much luck at OLB in this regard. A Free Agent is going to cost an arm and a leg, and outside of a few surefire players, is often no guarantee. The Packers have $43 million in cap, but still have several other players they need to sign first (Lang, Cook, Lacy, Hyde).
One of the big problems the Packers have had with guys they have acquired as an edge rusher, none of them played in a 3-4 prior to the Packers. There has been talk for a couple of years that the Packers are much better suited for a 4-3 because of guys like Perry, Peppers and Jones fitting the mold of a 4-3 DE. While the ‘elephant’ position helped patch a lot of the OLB/DE issues, the Packers lacked a certain amount of speed on the edge necessary in a 3-4. Also, Daniels would likely thrive in a 4-3 DT role, as would Matthews in that OLB role.
Enter Barwin. His Salary Cap hit for this year isn’t terrible, $8.4 million, and is guaranteed almost no money (600k this year, ZERO next year). The cap risk of acquiring him is minimal and can cut ties at any point. He’s long (6’4), intelligent and has a motor that doesn’t quit. He topped 14.5 sacks in 2014 and 11.5 in 2011, and has 49.5 in his 8 years. While his production dipped last year, it might have something to do with the fact that he was asked to play 4-3 DE in Jim Schwartz’s scheme.
Having played OLB in a 3-4 in Houston and prior to Schwartz in Philly, he saw his most success in that role. He’s a true OLB in a 3-4, since he’s 265 pounds on a good day, and ill suited for taking on guards. Probably most importantly, he has not missed a single game since a gruesome 2010 ankle injury put him on IR (I don’t recommend searching for that, it was gross). At a position where you play the run, rush the passer and have to exert maximum effort on every down (which he does), this is impressive. For a Packers OLB corps that missed significant time this year, this would be a HUGE plus.
The asking price for Barwin likely can’t be that much (he’s coming off his worst season as a pro). The Packers have enough draft capital to make this trade happen if they really wanted. If the Packers are adamant about hanging on to Capers and the 3-4 as it’s base defense (not 100% true, since they play primarily nickel) they need players that fit the actual mold at each position. For years, they have been miscasting guys in these roles. Adding Barwin would put someone on the team that fits the 3-4 OLB mold perfectly. It would also allow Matthews to slide back inside, where at this point in his career, he is much better suited.
How Could Acquiring Connor Barwin Negatively Impact Green Bay?
Well, the obvious is, he’s on the wrong side of 30, and is coming off his worst season as a pro. Thompson essentially tosses most players to the scrap heap the second they hit 30, and typically doesn’t jump out of his seat at FA over 30 (Peppers being the rare exception). PFF has not been overly kind to him as far as his overall performance the last few years, which some may attribute to the switch to 4-3. However, good players find a way to adjust and compensate. He’s been regularly rated as an ‘average’ OLB, despite an 14.5 sack season in 2014. For a team looking to improve and needing a consistent pass rush to make up for an under-performing secondary, average might not cut it.
Given his minimal guaranteed money this year, he is a prime Salary Cap casualty given his lack of production. Due to the fact he is owed $10 million next year, the Eagles won’t owe much if they cut ties. So, the Packers could wait to see if the Eagles cut him before the start of Free Agency, and sign him to a lesser deal. The only problem with this is a team with more Cap room might be willing to take on his salary and swoop in.
Which kind of leads into my next point. The Packers still have 3 others players on the depth chart you are likely to lose. Nick Perry is likely going to demand a pretty decent amount, and the Packers can ill afford to lose him. They have Free Agents across most positions, and might be forced to let someone like Hyde, Lang, Jones or Lacy walk because they take on Barwin’s heavy price tag.
Adding Barwin also means the Packers are unlikely to address their dilemma in the secondary through FA, and would likely address that need in the draft (which is rich in DB talent this year). This is great if it works out, but given just how terrible the secondary was down the stretch, it’s a lot to bet on a rookie making a complete unit-altering impact. Given the loss of Shields, they are basically praying Rollins and Randall just had Sophomore slumps, and Gunter continues to improve into a number 1 corner. This does not instill much confidence.
Final Connor Barwin Verdict
Thompson likely won’t make this deal, but honestly, he needs to take a chance somewhere. While the obvious age, production, cap and DB issues are a lot to overcome, the Packers can cut ties if the move doesn’t work and feel confident they made the right move. The Packers need to do something to mask the issues in the secondary, and I think improving the pass rush goes a long way in doing that. The Packers had too many games in 2016 where their pass rush disappeared, and their secondary got exploited to no end.
For the most part, the Packers haven’t filled the OLB with a true 3-4 OLB and Barwin offers enough size, speed and stability to own one of the starting OLB positions, even with average production. I’m not saying it’s the perfect move, I’m not saying it’s feasibly a move Thompson will make, but if the Packers are serious about trying to improve their defense and the asking price is right, they could do a lot worse than Barwin.