Name: Connor Barwin
Measureables: 6'4'', 268 lbs
2013 Stats: 44 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 5 passes defended
Last Contract: 4 Years/ 4.01 Million (Rookie Deal)
Why He's Available: In 2011, Connor Barwin exploded onto the scene with increased playing time, notching 11.5 sacks for a revamped Texans defense (most of them in Mario Williams' absence). This year, his production decreased drastically, as he recorded only 3 sacks. He switched positions in November to compensate for Brooks Reed's injury (swapping his usual weakside linebacker spot for the strong side), then watched rookie Whitney Mercilus chip in 3 sacks in December alone (and 6 total on the year) from the weakside linebacker position. Resigning Barwin was high on Houston's list of priorities last summer, and the team was even flirting with the idea of using its franchise tag on him last August. However, a deal was not reached, and Barwin undoubtedly lost major dollars with a disappointing 2012. The Texans now have to consider giving Mercilus increased playing time in 2013, which might leave Barwin as an odd man out. Depth is always important for a linebacker corps, but is Barwin worth top dollar to Houston if his snaps stand to see a decrease? Outside of his breakout 2011, Barwin has tallied only 3 sacks in each of his other two seasons. Any team that signs Barwin to a major deal will be taking a serious risk in assuming that his 2011 is a sign of things to come, rather than an outlier in an otherwise (mostly) unproductive career. For what its worth, Barwin grades out as the Texans worst free agent on ProFootballFocus.
Why He is Worth The Jets' Pursuits: In the NFL (and all sports), there are unproductive years, and then there are unlucky years. For an edge rusher to record 3 sacks in an otherwise high octane defense (the Texans were 5th in the NFL with 44 sacks) is probably inexcusable. With that being said, Barwin was around the quarterback and in opposing teams' backfields all year long. In his breakout 2011, Barwin recorded 28 QB hits and 11 sacks. In a seemingly disappointing 2012, Barwin still managed to hit the quarterback 17 times. His ratio of sacks per QB hit in 2012 was essentially half of what it was in 2011, a statistic that I'd largely attribute to a few unlucky breaks. Of course, this might indicate that he was half a step slower in 2012, but it also shows that his game didn't fall off a cliff entirely as the basic numbers may indicate. Regardless, he would have been the Jets' most effective outside linebacker by far in 2012. Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace combined for 10 QB hits all season. Thomas was primarily used to set the edge, but when both outside linebackers fail to generate pressure, there are serious problems afoot. Connor Barwin also recorded 12 tackles for a loss in 2012, compared to seven apiece for the duo of Pace and Thomas. With Pace and Thomas likely on their way out for cap reasons, the comparisons are largely moot. Regardless, the linebacker corps will have (at least) two gigantic holes in the coming season and Barwin would present a long term solution at a discounted rate.
"I think he has played well," Kubiak said. "I do know that the numbers aren't there like they were last year. But his effort and his consistency as a player and the way he grades out every week it's been every bit as good as last year."
-Houston Texans Coach Gary Kubiak, per Paul Kuharsky
Comparable Contracts: It was a little tough to find a player comparable to Connor Barwin. If Barwin had signed after his breakout 2011, he would have been in line for a contract around 6 or 7 million per year (or even 8.8 million, the franchise tag figure for outside linebackers in 2012). Mark Anderson, who was two years older than Barwin, signed for 19.5 million over 4 years with Buffalo last offseason after notching 10 sacks the previous year. If the chips fall that way this offseason, the Jets won't be able to afford Barwin. Their age difference may be significant, but Anderson went into free agency with momentum and a better resume. Regardless, it is difficult to project a contract for a talented player coming off such a bad statistical year. If the market plays out to allow the Jets to get a bargain deal, Barwin will be too enticing to pass up. For anything more than that, the Jets will doubtlessly pass.