Free Agent Duel: Cody vs. Barwin
After a fantastic start to the 2012 season, the Houston Texans were a disappointment in the second half of the year and went on to yield to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. Part of the reason for this was an inconsistent defense that lacked overall substance outside of a couple of key starters like Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Heading into the offseason they have some tough decisions to make on players currently on the roster with perhaps the biggest being between nose tackle Shaun Cody and outside linebacker Connor Barwin. PFF analysts Gordon McGuinness and Pete Damilatis are back to state their case for each in another Free Agent Duel.
Why it has to be Cody
By Gordon McGuinness
Shaun Cody hasn’t been without his faults in Houston, with his play nose-diving from Week 14 on after a solid season prior to that. A starter since arriving in Houston in 2009, he has flashed impressive performances but countered them with some horrendous efforts, like against Minnesota this year (-4.8). Still, he has shown himself to be worthy of a spot on the roster in Houston, although the Texans may need to manage his snaps better going forward if they do bring him back.
Playing 140 snaps against the run this past season; Cody made 11 solo tackles, with 10 of them resulting in defensive stops. That gave him a Run Stop Percentage of 7.1, 27th among all defensive tackles and one spot behind his teammate in Houston Earl Mitchell. Mitchell had a solid season in 2012, certainly his best since entering the league as a third-round draft pick in 2010, but like Cody his performances were up and down throughout the year.
On the balance Mitchell, for me anyway, is the better player of the two. However, in looking at the way Houston likes to rotate the pair, it makes sense to bring Cody back provided the price is right. I’d look to scale back his role a little in 2013 and beyond, keeping him under 20 snaps a game if possible, as this is where he has looked at his best. His best three performances last season came in games where he was on the field for 16 or fewer snaps, while his worst three all came in games where he saw at least 24 snaps.
Is that a coincidence? Perhaps, but at the age of 30 Cody seems best suited to a lesser role anyway. It might seem strange that I’m leading the charge for the re-signing of a player who I also think should be limited more, but every team needs role players. Providing he can be brought back at a reasonable price, and I see no reason for that not to be the case, Cody can contribute to a Texans team chasing its third straight AFC South title.
Why it Shouldn’t be Cody
By Pete Damilatis
Gordon certainly has no delusions about Cody’s production, and neither should the Texans. The kindest thing I can say about Cody is that he has been a stable cog in Houston’s line for the last four seasons. Otherwise, he’s little more than a space eater who can’t be counted on for a big play. He’s finished each of the last five seasons with a negative PFF grade, and his -4.0 mark this year landed him 63rd among 85 defensive tackles. He didn’t earn a single quarterback pressure on 106 pass rushing snaps, making him statistically the worst pass rushing DT in 2012. He totaled just one tackle (an assist) in his last six games combined. Despite playing next to the most disruptive defender in the league, J.J. Watt, Cody continually filled the stat sheet with goose eggs.
NFL teams always need big defensive tackles to occupy blockers, which is why players like Shaun Rogers and Ma’ake Kemoeatu can still make a roster well past their primes. Still, the Texans can do better than Cody, who just had back surgery two weeks after turning 30 years old. Houston won’t have to pay much for Aubrayo Franklin, whose 11.1 Run Stop Percentage was second-highest among 82 defensive tackles. Also with Wade Phillips’ one-gap system, a stronger pass rusher like Richard Seymour is also a possibility. For a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, there’s little reason to count on Cody next season.
Why it has to be Barwin
By Pete Damilatis
I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this was a bad season for Barwin. His -18.9 grade was the third-worst of any 3-4 outside linebacker. His 4.0 Run Stop Percentage and 5.8 Pass Rushing Productivity were both among the worst marks at his position. Some PFF readers may have seen this coming too, as Barwin earned a -4.6 grade last season despite notching 12 sacks. Often getting looped into the accolades of more accomplished teammates like Watt and Brian Cushing, you could say that Barwin is one of the most overrated defenders in the NFL. So why am I defending him? Because he’s one of the most productive members of a Texans defense that has more holes than you’d think.
Although Barwin’s per-play performance was undoubtedly sub-par, his total production can’t be denied. His 2,006 defensive snaps over the last two seasons are the second-most for any 3-4 linebacker. He’s accounted for 16.8 percent of Houston’s quarterback pressures in that time, and his 55 defensive stops are tied for third behind Watt and Cushing. He also has a whopping 13 batted passes, three more than any other linebacker in the league. The fact that he converted 22.2 percent of his pressure into sacks in 2011 makes sense when you see that he’s missed only four of his 75 tackle attempts in the last two seasons.
The Texans might find Barwin more replaceable if they had better options behind him, but they don’t. Keep in mind, Brooks Reed’s 6.4 Pass Rushing Productivity and Whitney Mercilus’ 6.0 PRP were not much better than Barwin’s. Though Houston recently invested high draft picks in both of them, there’s little indication that either can be the outside pass rusher that Houston needs. After a strong start, the Texans’ defense floundered in the second half of the season because no one beyond Watt and Antonio Smith were able to get to the quarterback. Handing Barwin’s job to Mercilus likely won’t change that.
Make no mistake about it; if Barwin is looking for a big payday then the Texans will be better off spending their money elsewhere. Yet his sheer volume of production makes me understand why GM Rick Smith considers him a core player for their roster. Without a clear successor on Houston’s depth chart, hopefully Barwin’s down season has depressed his value enough for Smith to re-sign him at a discount.
Why it Shouldn’t be Barwin
By Gordon McGuinness
Pete’s right not to sugarcoat Barwin’s 2012 season, and his lack of production on a per-snap basis, as opposed to his raw stats, highlight exactly why it’s time for the Texans to move on. This is a defense that lacks any consistent outside pass rushing threat and it’s time for that to change. Barwin may have accounted for 40 total pressures this past season, but he did it on the second most pass rushes of any 3-4 outside linebacker in the league. That is also indicated by his disappointing Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 5.8. I could live with the lack of pass rush if he was at least excelling as a run defender but when you’re decidedly average in one area, and highly disappointing in another, you have to question why you’re even contemplating bringing a player back. Instead, the Texans should be looking at a guy like Dallas’ Victor Butler, who has impressed on a limited basis in his time with the Cowboys. Adding him to the rotation of Mercilus and Reed would surely upgrade the Texans’ defense and do so without breaking the bank either.
When it comes to Cody I just don’t see a player out there who can replace him and upgrade their defense in a way similar to what’s available at outside linebacker. He wore down at the end of the season as Pete pointed out, but he also played the entire season with a back injury that required surgery in February, so perhaps it was asking too much for him to last the entire season. Provided everything is sorted out injury-wise, I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue to be a decent role player on the Texans’ defense.