EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Connor Barwin loves to play football, but throughout the just-concluded offseason, he was happy to be an unemployed football player.
Barwin became a free agent following the 2017 season, his ninth in the NFL and first with the Los Angeles Rams. But he neither hurried to look for a job nor was concerned he'd find one. Barwin instead returned to his Philadelphia home, where two months ago, his wife, Laura, gave birth to their first child, a son named West.
With that matter settled, the veteran outside linebacker pivoted back toward football. Yesterday, he signed with the Giants, with whom he practiced for the first time today.
"I was patient and I enjoyed my offseason, and I stayed in shape," Barwin said today. "It was really a blessing my wife had a baby two months ago, so I got to stay home for the whole offseason. It was incredible, I got lucky I had the whole offseason to myself.
"I knew I would sign right before a training camp. It was a great opportunity for me at my age (31) to be around my wife and my son being born. Then being able to sign right before camp, so it really worked out perfect for me."
Now the Giants hope their partnership with Barwin works out perfectly for them. They needed a pass rusher, and Barwin's 55.5 career sacks are more than any active player on the Giants' roster (he supplanted Olivier Vernon, who has 44.0). In addition to his consistent production, Barwin brings experience, consistency (he started 112 consecutive games until a broken forearm last season forced him to miss two contests), and leadership. Indeed, first-year Giants linebackers Alec Ogletree and Barwin were the Rams' defensive captains last season.
"He brings another leader in the locker room, a great teammate," Ogletree said. "You know, a guy that is always willing to help the next man and the man beside him, so like I said, I tweeted out, 'I couldn't ask for a better teammate,' and I stand by that. One of the best teammates I've ever had, for sure."
"Tree is one of the best I have ever had, too," Barwin said. "People ask what makes a great player. I think what makes a great player is being a good teammate. It's something I pride myself on, and the more guys on your team that try to be a good teammate, you are going to have a better team."
Barwin is not worried about how he'll fit in with his new teammates. This is the third time in six years he has had to assimilate into a new locker room. Barwin spent his first four NFL seasons with the Houston Texans. He joined the Eagles for four years before moving to the Rams last season.
"I've done it a couple of times, but football connects us all, so it's pretty easy around football," he said. "We just had our first walkthrough and that's when you start talking with the guys, communicating with the guys, learn the plays, so I've done this before."
He considers playing for the Giants a particularly good situation, for several reasons. As mentioned, he fills a need. And he was in Philadelphia with head coach Pat Shurmur and linebackers coach Bill McGovern.
"I thought it was the right fit for me," he said. "It's a good opportunity. I'm close to my family back east, it's a good defense for me, I know Shurm, I know Bill McGovern. I had, I think, 25 sacks (actually, 26.5) with McGovern in Philly, so I'm happy to be back with him and be back with this group of guys."
Barwin said there's no ambiguity about what his role will be in James Bettcher's defense.
"It's to rush the passer," he said. "Be a veteran presence, be a leader. Be available to play Sam or Will (linebacker). Definitely mentor the younger players. I haven't played in Bettch's defense, but it's a 3-4. I've played in a number of different 3-4's. They are all similar, so that kind of covers my role."
Barwin had two double-digit sack seasons (14.5 in 2014, his Pro Bowl season, and 11.5 in 2011) and is straightforward when asked what it takes to succeed as a pass rusher.
"You have to be productive, you have to be disruptive," he said. "It's not always sacks, but you want to get the sacks. You have to be disruptive. People have to know where you are at all times. You have to pressure the quarterback and be disruptive as much as you can."
Now that he's taken care of his other obligations, Barwin is thrilled to be back in a football uniform.
"I'm rusty, but I have four weeks to catch up and learn the playbook and all that stuff," he said. "We are all lucky and privileged to be here playing football, to be in another camp. It's my 10th camp. I feel blessed and lucky to be doing it again, and I get that feeling from everyone in the locker room right now.
"I feel like I've got a lot left. I thought last year went well for me in L.A., and I'm excited to be back here."