- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Philadelphia Eagles added another piece to their defense Thursday when they announced a new six-year contract for linebacker Connor Barwin, formerly of the Houston Texans. Barwin is a pass-rusher who had 11.5 sacks for the Texans in 2011 but only three in 2012, and our friends at Pro Football Focus would tell you he was one of the worst 3-4 outside linebackers in the league in 2012. They ranked him 32nd overall and 33rd in pass rushing among that group.
But whatever. He did have 11.5 sacks in 2011, so there's evidence that he can get to the quarterback. And Barwin also has something the pass-rushers already on the Eagles' roster do not have -- experience playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive alignment. While it's entirely possible that Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, who were defensive ends last season when the Eagles lined up in a 4-3, can handle the likely change in roles, it's also possible that they cannot. Bringing in someone such as Barwin augments the pass rush with someone the Eagles know can handle it, deepens the pass-rushing talent on the roster and improves the Eagles' versatility on several fronts.
If Barwin's skill set isn't exactly equal to those of Cole, Graham and Vinny Curry, it allows coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis to mix and match pieces on defense, which appears to be a big part of what the Eagles intend to do in 2013. If the defense is to be a "hybrid," as it has been described in many places, it will help to have a variety of players with different strengths and weaknesses up and down the depth chart at every position. You cannot, as the Giants are so fond of saying, have too many pass-rushers. So while your first question might have been whether this means the Eagles are getting rid of Cole, I wouldn't assume that. Cole had a rough year in 2012, but even great players do that sometimes, and I doubt the Eagles are ready to ship him out of town. His trade value is low right now anyway, and I can't believe there's no place in their defense for someone of his abilities and accomplishments.
The Eagles are adding a lot of pieces to their defense. Since free agency opened, they've signed two safeties, two cornerbacks, a linebacker, a nose tackle and now a pass-rush specialist. They have a lot more cap room left and are likely to keep adding pieces. Their additions have set them up to take the best player available to them with the No. 4 pick in the draft, regardless of position, which is surely the position in which they want to be. And while, as always, there's no way to predict how any of these guys will play, if the goal is to amass depth and multiple options at as many positions as possible while they figure out what they want to do and how they want to do it, the Eagles appear to be on their way to doing that.