The Green Bay Packers have three outside linebackers currently under contract for 2017. One is coming off an underwhelming rookie season (Kyler Fackrell), another — Clay Matthews — has played better and stayed healthier when playing inside linebacker over the last three years, and the third was a practice squad player in 2016. With the team likely to lose at least a couple of key contributors at the position to free agency this spring, it would behoove Ted Thompson to look into replacements via any method of player acquisition that he can obtain.
Certainly, Thompson will look to the draft to find an edge rusher, and the likelihood is that he works to re-sign some combination of Nick Perry, Datone Jones, and Jayrone Elliott. However, a rarely-used method of acquiring players (at least in Green Bay) is via trades, which is the subject of a rumor mentioning the Packers this week.
Enter Connor Barwin, Pro Bowler and current Philadelphia Eagle.
A few weeks back, we mentioned Barwin as being a potential salary cap casualty in Philly, and one who should interest the Packers if he does end up on the open market. The 30-year old edge rusher has two years left on his contract, which owes him $7.75 million this season and $10.25 million in 2018. However, the Eagles could cut him loose this offseason and absorb just a $600,000 salary cap hit due to signing bonus money.
On to the rumor itself. NJ.com’s Mark Eckel reported over the weekend that Barwin would draw tremendous interest on the open market if the Eagles do cut him, quoting an NFC scout who said that “teams would be lining up for him.” Eckel also mentions the Packers as a possible fit for Barwin, due to the 3-4 defense and the team’s $43 million or so in salary cap space.
Granted, the prospect of Ted Thompson giving up a draft pick for a veteran player — especially one who has a good chance of getting cut — seems low. Thompson has shown a tendency to go after players like Barwin if their teams release them (think Julius Peppers), but he has not made an offseason trade acquisition in recent memory. A trade also would put Barwin on the Packers’ roster with nearly an $8 million price tag, which may be more than Thompson is comfortable with paying him, even without any of that money being guaranteed.
It ultimately seems more likely that the Packers would wait out the market for Barwin to see if he becomes available as a street free agent; at that point, Thompson and contract guru Russ Ball could work to structure a new deal for the edge rusher that would presumably reduce his cap hit for 2017 and give him some amount of guaranteed money.
Overall, Barwin is miscast as a 4-3 defensive end, the position he played in 2016 under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Barwin played his first seven seasons as a 3-4 outside linebacker, recording 11.5 sacks in 2011 and 14.5 in 2014 on his way to the Pro Bowl. Back in a 3-4 system, he would provide his new team with a steady veteran presence, capable of playing well in both run support and pass rush.
Ultimately, an $8 million price tag for one year would not break the bank, but it would put a dent in the Packers’ ability to re-sign some of their own players. Don’t expect Thompson to look hard at making a trade for Barwin, but if Philadelphia ends up finding the trade market soft and releases him, Thompson should get him on the first plane to Green Bay for a workout.