2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DE: Connor Barwin equals big savings

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, DE: Connor Barwin equals big savings

This is it. The Eagles can free up a few million in salary-cap space here or there, but the overwhelming majority of those moves would either create a corresponding need that eats into those savings or at least raise questions about the potential replacement and depth. That's not exactly the case at defensive end, where Connor Barwin represents perhaps both the easiest and largest cap savings on the roster.

All but $600,000 of Barwin's prorated signing bonus would wind up back in the Eagles' pockets in the event of the eight-year veteran's departure, leaving the front office an additional $7.75 million to work with this offseason. And unlike at so many other positions where cash could come off the books, should the club decide to part ways with the 2014 Pro Bowler, there's no real risk of opening up a glaring hole.

That's partially because we're no longer viewing Barwin as a fit with the Eagles. Prior to last season, he had spent most of his NFL career as an outside linebacker in 3-4 defenses. Not only did those schemes take advantage of his full skill set both as a pass-rusher and in coverage, but he fared better at getting off the quarterback, too. Barwin twice finished with double-digit sacks in the 3-4, including 14.5 as recently as two years ago, yet managed only 5.0 in defensive coordinator Jim Shwartz's wide-nine 4-3 alignment in '16.

Barwin is also on the wrong side of 30 now, so any thought he will improve with more experience in Schwartz's front is negated somewhat by his impending decline. He's never really been a pure pass-rusher to begin with, maxing out at 7.0 sacks in five other healthy seasons, and finishing with 5.0 or fewer in four.

In other words, there doesn't seem to be a tremendous incentive to keep Barwin around, and that's even taking into account he would be open to a pay cut — especially considering the other investments at the position.

Brandon Graham was named second-team All-Pro after a stellar season. Vinny Curry failed to live up to a huge contract extension, but the guarantees are such that the Eagles are stuck with him for at least one more season, plus they should probably let him on the field more for that amount of money. Marcus Smith flashed the potential to come off the bench, and seventh-round draft pick Alex McCalister is ready to come off of injured reserve.

Is that rotation significantly better with Barwin in it? Maybe, maybe not. Yet looking at veteran defensive ends around the league, even at a reduced price, a new contract stands to cost the Eagles an average of $5-6 million per year. As long as that's the case, it's probably time the club finds out about some of these younger options waiting for their time.

DEFENSIVE ENDS UNDER CONTRACT

Vinny Curry
Age: 29*
Cap Number: $9,000,000

Yes, there's no question Curry was a massive disappointment in 2016 with 2.5 sacks. Of course, it would probably help if the most highly paid defensive end on the team was on the field for more than 42.6 percent of the unit's snaps, per Football Outsiders. That's not a great deal more than when he was miscast as a 3-4 end. And more playing time might solve the problem, too, as according to Pro Football Focus, Curry was the ninth most productive pass-rusher among qualifying 4-3 ends the NFL in '16 in terms of sacks, hits and hurries per snaps. The Eagles have nothing to lose by putting him on the field more anyway. Curry's cap hit rises to $15 million in the event of his release, and although a trade would spare the club his guaranteed $7 million in base salary, that's still only $1 million in total savings. He'll be here.

Connor Barwin
Age: 31*
Cap Number: $8,350,000

Two contracts that seem relevant to a potential Barwin restructuring are those signed by Robert Ayers with the Buccaneers and William Hayes for the Rams. Both players were 30 at the time of their new three-year deals in 2016, and neither had ever recorded double digit sacks in a season. Ayers received $19.5 million with $7.5 million guaranteed. Hayes got $17.5 million, $10 million guaranteed. Veteran defensive ends with any type of pass-rushing ability do not come cheap, so what will a pay cut actually do for the Eagles? A new contract could be structured in such a way that it significantly reduces Barwin's cost in '17, but probably not without rolling over another large sum into the following year. Is it really worth it?

Brandon Graham
Age: 29*
Cap Number: $7,500,000

Graham's 5.5 sacks may not seem that high, but in terms of less conventional numbers, the seven-year veteran was among the league leaders. With 14 tackles for loss, Graham was three off of the NFL lead, showing how strong he is against the run, while his 22 quarterback hits show more pressure on quarterbacks than a lower sack total might lead people to believe. Pro Football Focus' signature stats agree, with Graham being ranked No. 1 in run-stop percentage and third in terms of pass-rush productivity. With only $2 million in prorated signing bonus spread over the next two seasons, don't be surprised if the Eagles re-do his contract this offseason, which could help create space for 2017.

Marcus Smith
Age: 25*
Cap Number: $2,481,533

Smith mercifully enters the final year of his rookie contract, and the Eagles could even save roughly $1.5 million with his release. Then again, the former first-round draft pick had some moments this season on his way to 2.5 sacks in addition to three tackles for loss. Smith is also contributing on special teams now, too. Obviously, that's not converting any skeptics, but given his age, there's still hope that he can be a productive reserve. At the very least, he's probably earned one last look in training camp, and it would not be shock at all if Smith continues to rise. He has the athleticism, and was an extremely raw project coming out of college. There's no way to even guess at his ceiling at this point, but there were some things to build on in '16.

Steven Means
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $690,000

Means appeared in eight games for the Eagles this season, the most he's been active for since his rookie season in 2013. That didn't translate to much playing time though, as he saw just 36 snaps on defense. A former fifth-round pick, Means seems to show up when his number is called, coming up with a sack and forced fumble against the Vikings in Week 7, in addition to some big plays during the preseason. He's been a great stash since the Eagles claimed him off the Texans practice squad in December of 2015 and finally may have a realistic shot at climbing the depth chart depending what happens this offseason.

Alex McAllister
Age: 24*
Cap Number: $482,842

A seventh-round selection, McCalister spent the entirety of his rookie season on injured reserve with a calf injury, though that seemed like more of a convenient excuse to redshirt the kid. Coming into the NFL at 239 pounds, the Eagles are hoping he could use the time off of the football field to bulk up and come back with a pro frame in '17, because at 6-foot-6 with 49-inch arms and 4.8 speed, McAlister has enticing measureables. Schwartz loves the guy, comparing him to a young Jevon Kearse. High praise indeed. Don't be surprised if McAlister makes the 53-man roster out of camp next season, because he has tremendous disruptive potential.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Bryan Braman
Age: 30*
2016 Cap Number: $975,000

Braman is essentially a defensive end by name only. He is seldom used on defense during the regular season, and is really only around for his presence on special teams. His impending free agency could speak volumes about this Eagles regime's philosophy on that phase of the game. Braman was signed by the club while knowing full well that's all he would do, but how many roster spots does this front office and coaching staff want to reserve for that purpose? For what it's worth, Braman only made four special-teams tackles in 2016, so a case can be made he's not one of the unit's most vital players. The fact that safety Chris Maragos received an extension mid-season and Braman did not might be very telling of the plan here.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 2: Connor Barwin to Terrence Brooks

Eagles Stay or Go Part 2: Connor Barwin to Terrence Brooks

In the second of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 2 is Barwin to Brooks. 

Connor Barwin
Cap hit: $8.35M

Roob: Not only is Barwin a massive force in the community, he’s also the only guy on the team I can talk music with. Who else am I going to hang out with at a War on Drugs gig? And he’s really been a terrific Eagle. A Pro Bowler a couple years ago, a tremendous locker room guy, durable, dependable, productive. All that said, Barwin will go, and that’s what makes this such a tough business. Barwin just does not fit in this 4-3 defense, and at 30 years old and with an $8.35 million cap figure, it doesn’t make sense to keep him when releasing him will create only $600,000 in dead money. Barwin has said he’s open to taking a pay cut, and if the Eagles and Barwin can make the numbers work, I’m fine with keeping him around as a rotational guy with a far lower cap figure. Maybe he would be more productive in a second year in this defense. But otherwise, this really seems to be one of those cases where you have to put your emotions aside and do what’s best long-term. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: We’re starting off today with a tough one. One of the toughest names we’ll encounter throughout this 12-day journey. If the Eagles just decided to cut Barwin, they would save $7.75 million. That’s a ton of money, especially for a team that could desperately use any cap space it can find. Barwin, for his part, has repeatedly made it known that he’d be willing to take a pay cut to rejoin the Eagles next year. I’m just not sure it makes sense, even with a pay cut. The Eagles have Vinny Curry making a ton of money waiting to play, and Barwin could fit better in a different defense. It’s not often a mayor of a city goes to bat for a player. That’s how much Barwin means to the community. But it just doesn’t make football sense or business sense to keep him, which is a shame.  

Verdict: GOES

Nigel Bradham
Cap hit: $4.25M

Roob: Bradham played fairly well this year, although his performance tailed off a bit in December. But he’s a guy you definitely want to keep around. Still young, contract not prohibitive. The only possible issue with Bradham is a potential NFL suspension following his two legal issues in Florida last year. But Bradham is solid at a position the Eagles have very little depth. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: If you can look past Bradham’s “dumbass” off-the-field incidents in his first year with the Eagles, he played pretty well. No, he’s not a Pro Bowler, but at the price of his two-year deal, he was a pretty good value. He played 97 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in 2016. He led the team in combined tackles with 102 and had two sacks. He has just one year left on his contract, so it might actually be time to think about extending him once his legal issues are cleared up. 

Verdict: STAYS

Bryan Braman
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: Braman, an unrestricted free agent, is still a decent special teams player, although, at nearly 30 years old, not as productive as he once was. The problem is although he’s listed as a defensive end, he’s really not a defensive end except in a dire emergency. He really doesn't have a position. As a seven-year veteran, Braman’s minimum base salary would be fairly high next year — $900,000. If I were the Eagles, I’d replace Braman with a young outside linebacker — a late-round draft pick or undrafted rookie — who can play special teams at a high level but can also fill in on defense and is cheaper. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is another tough one. Braman had a cap hit near $1 million in 2016, the last year of his contract. The big question here is, do the Eagles want to invest in an aging special teamer or try to replace him with someone younger and possibly cheaper? That said, Braman is a beast on special teams and the Eagles have put plenty of resources into their special teams units. I think they can figure something out. 

Verdict: STAYS

Brandon Brooks
Cap hit: $7.2M

Roob: As long as his stomach ailments are under control, Brooks isn’t going anywhere. He was solid in his first year as an Eagle ... when he was able to play. Hopefully, Brooks has put this all behind him, and he’s able to be there for his team at right guard for 16 games next year. Is Brooks worth $40 million over five years? Probably not. He’s above average, but not a superstar. But with that contract, he’ll be here at least through 2018. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: When Brooks has been on the field, he’s been really good. The Eagles put a lot of money into improving their guard positions from a disastrous 2015 and Brooks looks like the real deal. According to ProFootballFocus, Brooks was the fourth-best offensive guard in football. He allowed just one sack and two quarterback hits all year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Ron Brooks
Cap hit: $2.1M

Roob: Honestly, I still think Brooks is best as a special teamer with minimal responsibilities on defense. Jim Schwartz, who coached Brooks with the Bills, feels otherwise and believes Brooks can be a capable slot corner. So he’ll be here. I just would like to see the Eagles upgrade across the secondary. Including at the slot. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s easy to say get rid of all the corners and start over, but it’s not that easy to actually do. Brooks was actually having a pretty decent season before an injury ended his 2016 season early. If Nolan Carroll isn’t back, and if Leodis McKelvin gets cut (I think it’s likely), it would be smart for the Eagles to keep Brooks. He doesn’t cost a whole lot, and when he got hurt in 2016, it completely changed the defense because it forced Malcolm Jenkins into the slot. 

Verdict: STAYS

Terrence Brooks
Cap hit: $705K

Roob: His interception clinched the Eagles’ only real win the last month and a half of the season, but Brooks’ main role here will remain on special teams, and he’s very good. But then again, it’s not like the Eagles have a bunch of young safeties to develop, so maybe Brooks can find a bigger role given time to develop. Heck, he made one huge game-clinching play, and that's more than a lot of people on this team.  

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Brooks was once a third-round pick of the Ravens in 2014, so it’s probable that Joe Douglas had a role in drafting him. With the Eagles, he didn’t get to play defense for most of the year, relegated instead to a special teams role. He was very good in that role. With a full training camp, he’ll get to prove he can play on defense too. 

Verdict: STAYS

Connor Barwin: 'Yes, I would take a pay cut' to stay in Philly

Connor Barwin: 'Yes, I would take a pay cut' to stay in Philly

Connor Barwin didn't try to talk around it on Tuesday. He wants to be back in Philadelphia next season, even if that means working out a new deal with the Eagles

On TCN's Breakfast on Broad, Barwin was asked flatly if he'd be willing to take a pay cut to return to the Eagles next season. 

"Yes, I would take a pay cut," he said. "I mean, my plan is to stay here. You know, people talk about my contract and I think, I like to think, I'm a reasonable person and I feel like I'll work with the Eagles and we'll restructure and make some kind of deal that works for everybody."

Before the end of the 2016 season, Barwin talked pretty openly about his frustrating year and his future with the team but stopped short of admitting he'd take a pay cut. With one game left to play, he said he wanted to focus on the Cowboys (see story).

It's not hard to figure out why questions about Barwin's future keep coming up. Since his 14½-sack year in 2014, he had seven sacks in 2015 and just five in 2016 as the Eagles switched to a 4-3 defensive scheme.  

Then, there's the contract. Barwin, 30, is set to have a salary cap hit of $8.35 million in 2017 and cutting him would save the Eagles $7.75 million in cap room. Plus, there's the fact that Vinny Curry, to whom the team just handed a big extension last year, played just 43 percent of defensive snaps in 2016. 

"Well, I'd like to be back here," Barwin said. "Obviously, I like playing in Philadelphia. But it's up to the coaches and management to decide."

Aside from just enjoying playing for the Eagles, Barwin has made Philadelphia his home and has been incredibly philanthropic since his arrival in 2013. 

Barwin said he expects that the Eagles will review their situation and put a plan together in the next couple of months. He expects to know their plan by March when free agency is set to begin. 

Had Barwin had a big year, this talk wouldn't be going on. But the production just wasn't there. That frustrates him too. 

"It was frustrating for me to not have the production I've had in the past," he said. "And then it was frustrating for me to not be in the playoffs again this year. In my career as a starter, I've been in the playoffs every year except for the last two years, so that was even more frustrating."