With Nick Perry not receiving the 5th-year option on his rookie contract and Mike Neal hitting the free agent market as well, Green Bay is thinning at outside linebacker and needing to find an ideal route for replacements. One option they could go to is targeting an enigma at the position, whose career changed dramatically last season.
Mark Barron was encompassing the bust label for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as a former first-round pick drafted No. 7 overall in 2012. After being shipped to St. Louis in 2014, his production took off in a new role and environment. The 6'2", 212-pound former safety thrived after being thrust into the linebacker role for Jeff Fisher last season. His 116 tackles and three forced fumbles were both career highs and had new life at the professional level.
As a free agent in 2016, Barron is clamoring for the contract that will entrench him in the NFL landscape for multiple seasons. Green Bay is a destination that could be an intriguing fit.
Barron isn't going to replicate the 7.5 sacks the Packers are losing with Perry and Neal testing the free agent waters. However, the aforementioned duo don't possess the upside and versatility Barron offers at the linebacker position. Deone Buccanon's transition from safety to linebacker, as well as Barron's, last season was a unique play-as both made a definite impact for their respective organizations last season.
Any follower of Barron knows he's adept at playing in the box and can take on blockers. He's not adverse to contact and can get in the backfield and blow up an offense's plays.
Barron ran a 4.54 40-yard dash time at Alabama's Pro Day in 2012, quelling any notion that he didn't have the speed to handle safety at the next level. He got to feature his instincts and power more at linebacker, which looks to be his regular position moving forward.
He also is a polarizing figure, with the league continuing to place more emphasis on the passing game and spreading the ball around the field. Barron has more range than the usual outside linebacker, converting from the secondary. His interception total doesn't suggest it, but Barron had to be dynamic at safety in college and not just be an enforcer at the position. His versatility played a part in being selected higher than anticipated.
With no interceptions last season, the base stat doesn't effectively articulate Barron's ability to handle tight ends. He might struggle in space against slot receivers, but Barron is serviceable in coverage against bigger receivers.
Per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, St. Louis-at the time-in 2015 had the opportunity to exercise Barron's fifth-year option. They instead chose to use their option on defensive tackle Michael Brockers, also drafted in 2012, who had three sacks and 27 tackles last season.
Instead overpaying for a pass rusher, which they possibly address via the draft, Barron might not be looking for an egregious contract that will cut deep into the Packers' salary in 2016. Convincing teams that his 2015 performance wasn't an anomaly could be an intriguing sell for a reclamation project. He's one of the more interesting commodities in the 2016 free agent market.
Playing alongside Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, who combined for 17 sacks last season, Barron wouldn't have to change roles and could be a viable run stuffer at the linebacker position. If the Packers take a chance on a rarity in the NFL by signing Barron, the payoff could be rewarding if acquired for the right price.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please welcome Jake Hyman, the latest new addition to the Acme Packing Company writing staff. Jake formerly contributed to SB Nation's Underdog Dynasty blog, covering the American Athletic Conference, and will be focusing heavily on free agency and draft prospects here at APC.