Thursday March 14th, 2013

Connor Barwin Connor Barwin will be asked to help the Eagles shift to a 3-4 defense. (Greg Trott/AP)

What to make of Connor Barwin? That's the question Philadelphia Eagles fans may be asking after the former Houston Texas signed a six-year, $36 million contract with Philadelphia (only $8 million of that deal is guaranteed, over the first two years ... we'll get to that).

Is Barwin the player who stepped up and delivered 11.5 sacks with an injured Mario Williams out of Houston's lineup in 2011? Or is his dismal 2012, which included just 3.0 sacks, a more accurate representation?

Oh, and, perhaps most importantly, what exactly do the Eagles plan to do with him now that he's there?

Let's start with that last question, because it's the most pressing. The Eagles are sliding to a 3-4 defense this season, and one would assume that Brandon Graham would be one of the full-time OLBs after he excelled down the stretch in 2012.

The other outside linebacker spot, at least until Thursday, had Trent Cole's name all over it. Cole just signed a six-year, $59.3 million contract himself a year ago. Cole has not, though, played in a 3-4 defense before -- Barwin, on the other hand, has extensive experience in that scheme.

Bailing on Cole now would be a tough pill to swallow, as would cutting back Graham's playing time. And any of these discussions assume that Barwin will be able to handle a three-down role and step up his game again.

So, back to the money for a second. While the overall numbers on Barwin's deal are impressive, the reality appears to be that Philadelphia could get out from under the deal after 2014. With that in mind, and with a manageable $8 million guaranteed, it's feasible that the Eagles keep Cole, Graham and Barwin for 2013 and use them in rotation.

This stands as one of the more intriguing signings so far, because there are so many variables. Cut down to its bare bones, Barwin's deal brings the Eagles' changing defense another young, aggressive player at a decent price. Grade: B-minus. Giving Barwin snaps at the expense of Graham would be a mistake, so the Eagles have to figure out how to make this work. This is a low starting grade for the potential -- and it's a situation we'll have to revisit as the seasons draws nearer.

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