As It Turns Out, The Texans Could've Very Easily Kept Connor Barwin
It didn't have to be goodbye.
"I think Brooks (Reed) and Connor (Barwin) played well. Sometimes because they're not numbers, the perception out there is somebody is not playing well because they don't have sacks, but I can tell you that can be far from the truth. I think they play well. I think they were productive. You're always trying to get to the quarterback, but I think they're both two fine young players that we can count on for a long time." -- Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, January 14, 2013 (the day after the playoff loss to New England)
All season long, week after week, as Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin continually piled up games with no sacks, head coach Gary Kubiak was asked by the media if he was concerned about Barwin's play, especially considering he had been one of the Texans' two or three biggest impact players on defense in 2011.
And all season long, week after week, Kubiak gave the media and fans answers like the answer above. In short, he would say that Connor is playing fine and that just because the sack column is empty doesn't mean that he's not having a productive season out there.
Sometimes, as fans and media who aren't immersed in "All 22" film 12 hours a day like coaches are, we are susceptible to taking a coach's word at face value. Because he's been in football his whole life, because he does this for a living, and well, gosh dang it, because Gary Kubiak seems like he's incapable of bullshit, we take his word at face value.
"Well, as a fan, I realize that six games into the season Connor Barwin has as many sacks as Donnie Jones, but...well, if Kubes says he's playing well, then dammit he's playing well!"
The process of allowing one to delude one's self into believing Gary Kubiak's coachspeak throughout the 2012 season was certainly helped along by the fact that a) as a team, the Texans were winning at an even greater clip than they were in 2011, and b) everybody loves Connor Barwin, as the full page ad he took out in this week's Houston Press effectively conveys.
Besides, the truth on Kubiak's (and Rick Smith's) real feelings on Connor Barwin's performance would be clarified fully when it came time to make him an offer in free agency after the season, anyway. If he was so playing so damn well, if Kubiak and Smith were seeing all of these esoteric football-ish things that we, the laypeople, couldn't see, if Barwin were still his ol' 2011 self and "Hey, sacks aren't everything!", then surely the Texans would make Barwin an offer commensurate with a high-level pass rusher (which is what he was in 2011).
Well, now that Barwin has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and now that Barwin has spoken in detail about the free agency process and what it would have taken to bring him back to Houston, the verdict on Gary Kubiak's Barwin rhetoric during the season is in:
Gary Kubiak was bullshitting his ass off when he was complimenting Barwin's play during the 2012 season.
Let's play some "coach speak/bullshit forensics", shall we?
As it turned out, Barwin wound up getting a deal from the Eagles a couple weeks ago that, on the surface, was billed as a six-year, $36 million deal. In reality, with only $8 million of that deal guaranteed (his $3 million signing bonus and his $700,000 '13 base salary and $4.3 million '14 base salary), it's a classic case of the phony numbers that accompany NFL contracts, where for a vast majority of the seemingly high-ticket free agents, the money is non-guaranteed on the back end of the deal.
In short, NFL contracts in free agency are never as they seem. EVER.
Make no mistake, what amounts to $8 million for two years for Connor Barwin does not make him a high-ticket free agent. His (extremely manageable) cap hit over a two-year period for the Eagles looks like this:
2013: $1,300,000 2014: $4,900,000
And then if the Eagles want to keep Barwin in 2015, he is due a salary of $5.5 million. That number is a ceiling, by the way, and is actually negotiable downward if the Eagles don't see fit to pay Barwin that much. If they want to cut him, they'd take a $1.8 million cap hit in accelerated signing bonus "dead money".
Given the fact that Barwin does have a Pro Bowl-caliber season under his belt very recently (11.5 sacks in 2011), and that he has a reputation as a tireless worker and great teammate, $8 million guaranteed over two years for Connor Barwin is nothing. Repeat, NOTHING.
As invisible as Barwin was for long spells of 2012, the Eagles got a great deal.
(If you want to see what a bad deal to a departing Texans free agent pass rusher looks like, go look at Buffalo's contract with Mario Williams . Have a vomit bag handy.)
Gary Kubiak wouldn't bullshit the media, would he?
Photo by Groovehouse
Before the 2012 season, the Texans reportedly offered Barwin a deal very similar to the one the Eagles gave him in free agency. At the time, Barwin rejected it and played out his existing deal, hoping to cash in big after the season was over.
So if before the 2012 season the Texans were essentially offering the same deal Barwin got from Philly after the 2012 season, and Kubiak's assessment of Barwin during 2012 was that he played "well" and was "productive," then something changed. What exactly changed?
If we take Kubiak's assessment of Barwin after the season at face value, Barwin must have just wanted to go to Philadelphia to get out of Houston, right?
Barwin indicated on Wednesday's edition of Pro Football Talk that, if the Texans had made the same offer that he received from Philadelphia, he would never have changed teams.
"I think I would've [stayed]," Barwin said. "You know it's a very hard decision and things get complicated, but Houston was who I came into the NFL with and who I had made very close relationships with and something we thought that we started four years ago and still haven't finished. But I've made a lot of progress since I've been here, but obviously things didn't work out that way and I'm very excited about my future in Philadelphia."
So, now let's ask the question again (with the additional information in bold): The Eagles made an offer that was similar to the Texans offer before the 2012 season, but Barwin really wanted to stay in Houston. What changed?
The Texans' assessment of Barwin as a player, apparently.
Not only were the Texans obviously offering less than what the Eagles were offering, it was less than what the Texans were offering before the season. At a deal that amounts to guaranteed money of $8 million over two years, Connor Barwin is, at worst, an extremely comfortable risk, and at best, a freaking bargain.
At that price (and with enough cap space to handle the deal, especially in 2013) it seems fairly obvious that the Texans saw Barwin as neither, which directly contradicts Gary Kubiak's assessment of Barwin's 2012 as "productive" the day after the season ended.
The moral of the story, kids? Don't EVER, EVER believe anything you hear in a coach's press conference. EVER. The only time true feelings are expressed is when it comes time to cut the check.
Words to live by. You're welcome.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.