The NFL's 2014 trade deadline wasn't that splashy, but one team with a lot of potential just got a bit better on defense, while perhaps the league's worst overall defensive unit became weaker as a result. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the St. Louis Rams have traded for Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mark Barron. The Bucs will get fourth- and sixth-round picks in return, per ESPN. Barron, the No. 7 overall pick in 2012, has three interceptions, two sacks and 177 tackles in 37 NFL starts. This season, according to Pro Football Focus' metrics, he'd allowed 16 catches in 23 targets for 173 yards and a 91.4 opposing quarterback rating. He had no sacks, hits, or hurries this year.
Barron was highly regarded coming out of Alabama as the quarterback and ringleader of a defense that was as good as any in the nation. More a box safety than a pure coverage player, Barron was expected to be the pointman of a new Bucs defense. "You not only have to play well, but you have to know where everyone should be [lined up]," Barron said the day he was drafted. "It's a head game, too, right? I think teams take that into consideration and respect it."
But between the Greg Schiano era and the transition to Lovie Smith in 2014, Barron has struggled to put consistent tape together at the next level. Some of that has to do with the changing defensive structures in Tampa Bay the last two years, but it's also a matter of Barron's talents matching up to a scheme. Barron has been a strong safety throughout his career, better as a box and lurk defender than anything else, and the problems with backpedaling that most Alabama pass defenders have encountered during Nick Saban's time there have been apparent for Barron at the NFL level. Few players in Tampa Bay have excelled during the switch to Smith's specific Cover-Two and Tampa-Two concepts, so the Barron move made sense in that regard -- but it's a severe reversal given what Smith said of Barron in August.
"Very pleased with him. I really like what he did at Alabama when he came out," the coach remarked, per AL.com. "He had a good season last year, but it's ahead of him. We need a big strong safety moving down into the box. But he went three days and had interceptions on three days [at training camp]. He has good hands for a big guy. I could talk about Mark for quite a while here, as you can see. But we like the direction he's going.
"Does the system play to his strength? Absolutely."
Well ... apparently not.
For the Rams, this means that T.J. McDonald, who has struggled in many areas, would assume a backup role at the strong safety position, and Barron will roam the back of the Rams defense with free safety Rodney McLeod -- or they could fit McDonald's athleticism into the mix in other ways.