Connor Barwin personifies the Eagles' offseason tilt of balance from defense to offense. The new Rams defensive end's release and the clearing of nearly $9 million from the salary cap led indirectly to the signing of two free- agent receivers, most notably Alshon Jeffery.
Few expected Barwin to return. Scheme, salary, and age were the reasons often cited for what would be his eventual departure. But after the Eagles invested an unprecedented amount in the defensive line last offseason, and after Carson Wentz's rookie year - one that showed great promise, but was shortchanged by a dubious supporting cast - it was apparent to many that the team's symmetry would shift.
Barwin, removing his own fate from the equation, understood this dynamic as well as anyone.
"Obviously, there was a ton of money invested in the defensive line room with Fletcher [Cox], Vinny [Curry], [Brandon Graham], and myself," Barwin said. "Now they have a quarterback that appears to have a chance to be a really, really good player.
"I wish it wasn't the money I was getting paid, but I think it was smart to use that money and help Carson."
Aside from adding Jeffery and Torrey Smith, the Eagles beefed up their offensive line by signing guard Chance Warmack and bringing back interior lineman Stefen Wisniewski. Even if those additions result in Howie Roseman's trading center Jason Kelce, the Eagles executive's focus remained on the offense, and in this case, Wentz's protection.
"You saw what happened when Lane Johnson was out for 10 games last year and what a difference that can make," Barwin said during a telephone interview Friday. "They're anticipating, I think, probably losing a few guys to injury, and that's why they're loading up on the offensive line.
"Maybe Howie still has a plan to trade Kelce or something, but I think they're going to be smart and keep him for one more year."
While Kelce has to idly wait as his name continues to be mentioned in trade scenarios - Roseman spoke of the possibility for any of his linemen during a recent radio interview - Barwin was spared such a fate. The Eagles did try to deal the 30-year old, but prospective teams knowingly withheld offers.
"It was just sitting around for three, four, five days - whatever it was - to see if Howie would be able to trade me," Barwin said. "And then, thankfully, he released me the day before free agency. . . . I understand how the NFL works, and if I was a GM, I would always try to get value before I released somebody."
Earlier that day, Barwin had attended the updated renovation of one of the Philadelphia playgrounds his foundation has helped fund. In four years, he had immersed himself in the community like perhaps no other local athlete, at least one who had transplanted to Philly.
He lived in the city year- round, rode SEPTA, biked to work through the neighborhoods, attended concerts, contributed his time, money, and name to civic causes, and most important, played his tail off on the football field.
"It's a gritty, hard-working city, and I think that's why I love the city so much," Barwin said. "I think that's what I've done my football career. I tried to work my whole career to try and get better."
Barwin had said early in the offseason that he was willing to trim his salary, but when his agent met with the cap-strapped Roseman at the NFL combine in February, there were a chasm in their definition of "pay cut." Barwin, who was slated to earn $18 million over the final two years of his contract, said he would have stayed at $5 million to $6 million per year.
But the Eagles' offer was "significantly" lower, he said. A week later, Barwin was released, and Roseman atypically released a statement thanking the former Eagle for his contributions to the team and the city.
"It was a tough day, even knowing that it was coming ahead of time," Barwin said. "But you woke up the next day and you got excited about the future and where I was headed next."
Barwin visited the Bengals first. While the opportunity to return to Cincinnati, where he played in college, was appealing, he left without a deal and headed to Los Angeles to meet with the Rams. The opportunity to be reunited with Wade Phillips, his defensive coordinator with the Texans, was too good to pass up, and he signed a one-year contract potentially worth $6.5 million.
"He's one of the best ever in coaching pass rushers," Barwin said of Phillips, who was largely credited with helping the Broncos win the Super Bowl in 2016. "He did a lot for me. I'm excited to get back with him."
Barwin recorded 11 1/2 sacks in 2012 - his first season under Phillips - and he may have had as many the following season had a young defensive end named J.J. Watt not become the focal point of the defense. Nevertheless, one of Barwin's strengths has been playing off some of the better interior defenders in the NFL.
With the Rams, he'll line up alongside all-pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and opposite defensive end Robert Quinn, who will rush predominantly from the right. While it is true that Jim Schwartz's wide-nine 4-3 scheme was ill-fitted to Barwin's skill set, having the defensive end rush from the right was almost as detrimental.
"I'm real excited to get on the left side, where I'm comfortable," Barwin said. "Rushing on the right was fine, but I'm excited to be on the left, be able to have some freedom to move around a little bit more in Wade's defense."
Phillips runs a 4-3 "under" scheme, but like most modern defenses, it uses various odd-and even-man fronts. Schwartz almost always rushed just four. For dominant rushers such as Cox or downhill-particular ones such as Graham, the wide-nine can be a fit. But Barwin is more of a queen piece than a rook.
"That's going to be the difference more than anything," Barwin said. "I can't just run straight downhill every single play. I got to have some room for some creativity and some options."
He did during his three seasons in Bill Davis' 3-4 two-gap system. Barwin averaged nine sacks - he led the NFC with 14 1/2 in 2014 - 11 1/2 tackles for losses, and eight passes defensed from 2013 to 2015. Last year, he finished with only five sacks, four tackles for losses, and two passes defensed. He also played significantly less - 70 percent vs. 88 percent.
Barwin didn't miss a game in four years and has played in 96 consecutive games entering 2017. Only eight active defensive players in the NFL have played in more consecutive games. Even though he will be looking to add to that streak in Los Angeles in several months, Barwin said that he plans on returning to Philly next offseason - and maybe permanently at some point.
He said his fourth annual "Make the World Better" benefit concert will remain here and is already scheduled for the Thursday before the Eagles opener. He just won't likely be able to attend.
"But I'll be back," said Barwin, who is getting married next month. "I'm going out there for six months."