Experience: 5 Years
Acquired: Signed as an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2013
The Eagles signed Connor Barwin away from the Houston Texans in the offseason to serve a vital role as the team transitioned from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense. His experience in the scheme, remarkable athleticism and overall versatility as the "Jack" linebacker role enabled the defense to "go," in the words of coordinator Bill Davis.
Barwin, who immediately took on responsibility as a veteran leader and helped change the culture of the locker room upon arriving in Philadelphia, was not merely a pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker. Often, he was asked to drop back in man or zone coverage or set the edge against the run. Barwin was a selfless chameleon who sacrificed his own personal statistics, did whatever was asked of him and was integral in the defense's transformation over the course of the season.
He always seemed to come up with a big play in a big moment, none more memorable than his fourth-quarter batted pass on fourth-and-1 against the Cowboys in the de facto Week 17 NFC East Championship Game. That was just one of 10 batted passes on the season for Barwin, who has a sixth sense for shooting his long arms into the air just as the quarterback releases the ball, which was the most for any 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
Barwin finished 2013 with 82 total tackles (51 solo, nine for loss), 5.0 sacks, eight hurries, one interception, one forced fumble and fumble recovery. A stat-stuffer extraordinaire and rock solid on- and off-field presence, he is an irreplaceable part of the defense who quickly ingratiated himself to his teammates, coaches and fans in his first season with the Eagles.
TOP PLAY OF THE YEAR
Yep, the batted pass against the Cowboys on fourth-and-1. Honorable mention: Barwin's sack-fumble of Robert Griffin III in the red zone in Week 11.
Those 10 batted passes. For an Eagles defense that ranked nearly dead-last in the NFL over the past two seasons in passes batted down, Barwin's knack for getting his hands in passing lanes – a skill he attributes to his time as a basketball player – was a welcomed addition. Those batted passes turned into incompletions, at worst, or opportunities for turnovers, at best.
DID YOU KNOW
1. Barwin is a prominent activist in the "Go Green" movement. The son of a city manager, his environmentalist efforts were well documented in his time with the Texans and he has now brought his initiative to Philadelphia. In addition to teaming with Eagles' sponsor NRG to promote awareness, Barwin is a regular SEPTA user, which he has been known to take to and from the NovaCare Complex during weekdays.
2. "Connor has always been a freak, in terms of his physical ability," center Jason Kelce said in early December. "We would always do long-distance running (at Cincinnati), and they would always put you in a position group. I'd be with the offensive line and the linebackers would always be with the big skill guys. Connor, who was a defensive end, I think 270 pounds at the time, used to run with the defensive backs. We would run 350 or 400 meters, all the way around the football field, and he would beat every single defensive back and finish in first place, and he wouldn't get tired. That's one of the things that you notice even at this level – his motor is on another level."
"The defensive backs were not big fans of it," Kelce added. "Getting beat by a 270-pound guy isn't what you're supposed to do, especially in a long-distance race."