Connor Barwin loves Philadelphia.
"I think I fit in here," Barwin said. "This is where I've made my home. I like living here. I like the personality of this city. I like the sports in this city."
Barwin is right. He is eclectic and bright, tech-savvy and hipster-cool, devoted to the town and its dynamism. He has a haircut and a profile that recalls a predatory bird. As an athlete, he is physically Spartan and fanatically regimented. Barwin absolutely fits Philadelphia ... to a point.
As an undersized, underproductive defensive end in a 4-3 scheme who is scheduled to make $7.75 million next season, he absolutely does not.
Barwin knows this. He's willing to dicker.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I'm back here next year," he said.
Everything? Renegotiate? Take a pay cut?
"I'm willing to do something," he affirmed. "So, we'll see."
He'll have to do something. In 2013, rookie coach Chip Kelly inserted Barwin as the centerpiece upgrade to the defense, the key cog in his 3-4 defensive scheme, and Barwin thrived as its hell-raising outside linebacker. He led the NFL with 14 1/2 sacks in 2014 and had 26 1/2 under Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
Three years later, no player on either side of the ball suffered more from Kelly's exit. He has four sacks this season and had none during the Eagles' 0-5 slide that quashed their playoff hopes after just 14 games. He played less than 60 percent of the snaps in the final two games of that skid for the first time since 2011, a strategy clearly aimed at preparing backup Vinny Curry for more playing time in 2017.
Recently, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz carefully touted Curry and marginalized Barwin. No one could blame Schwartz. Curry isn't going anywhere. Last winter, he signed a contract extension that carries a $15 million cap hit if the Eagles cut him and an $8 million hit if he is traded. Barwin, meanwhile, costs $600,000 to cut and, to review, $7.75 million to keep.
He says he's willing to do everything he can to stay.
The Eagles should do everything they can to keep him. For a discount, Barwin's value is hard to measure.
In a 3-4 scheme, Barwin's value lay in his versatility (covering tight ends and running backs well), his adaptability (he could rush the passer from both edges and up the middle) and his on-field leadership. He was instrumental in helping ends Brandon Graham and Trent Cole convert to outside linebacker and he helped young inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, too.
In the wide-9, 4-3 scheme run by Schwartz, Barwin not only changed positions but moved from the left side to the right. How could he be expected to succeed?
"I think it's been an adjustment," he admitted. "I'm not as discouraged as some people in the media think. I'm optimistic about the system, and the growth I can have in it from this year to next year."
If anything, Barwin has proved himself adaptable. All good leaders do.
He was raised in the outskirts of Detroit but went to high school in the city. He attended Cincinnati, where he played tight end on the football team until his senior season and, as a sophomore and junior, played backup forward on the basketball team.
He thrived in conservative, compartmentalized, multiethnic Houston after the Texans took him in the second round of the 2009 draft. He has a gay brother, which spurred him to champion the LGBT community's struggle for rights. He was a Michael Sam supporter who joined Athlete Ally to promote tolerance.
By the same token, he understands why former teammate Josh Huff carried a handgun in his car, and he understands why quarterback Carson Wentz gave his linemen shotguns for Christmas.
"He listens. He gets to know people. He doesn't judge right away," Graham said. "Not everybody does that."
He thinks, too, and he dives into life. Barwin rides electric cars and bicycles and public transportation to work. He digs indie bands and foodie restaurants and art museums. Born deaf, he endured surgeries for 10 years to improve his hearing, until he was 12, and he now loves music so much it he created a foundation that makes its money from concerts.
He has installed solar panels in Haiti and he has installed an urban farm in South Philly. He has cleaned parks and he has painted sidewalks.
Any one of those qualities would make the typical NFL player remarkable. Connor Barwin has them all.
He is a splendid citizen; a municipal treasure. The city has seldom had an ambassador who knew and used it better.
"The Schuylkill River Trail is my favorite landmark," Barwin said. "Dude, have you ever ridden your bike or taken a run on the Schuylkill Trail on a nice day? It's the No. 1 urban trail in the country for a reason!"
Allen Iverson might love Philly, but he never did laps on Kelly Drive.
The harsh reality, though, is that other cities have nice trails, too. Other cities also have teams that run 3-4 defenses, and those teams might pay him a lot more than Philadelphia's team will. He's only 30. This Eagles team seems years away from postseason relevance. Shouldn't he want to be somewhere else?
"I think I have a lot of years left in me, but no," he insisted. "I want to be here. I want to have success here."
He realizes he might not.
"That's something that's a possibility after every season," Barwin said. "That's something, as a player, you're always thinking about. Hopefully, they make the right decision."