Four days into the NFL’s free-agency period for the 2019 season, and Mark Barron remains among the players without a team.
Barron wasn’t supposed to be a free agent this year. The former Alabama All-American had two seasons left on a $45 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams released Barron on March 8 — one week before he was due a $3 million bonus of being on the team’s roster. Los Angeles was able to release Barron without owing him any money, since the $20 million in guarantees in his contract already had been reached, and his departure cleared $6.337 million off the team’s 2019 salary cap, according to the sports financial website overthecap.com.
But Barron’s new team could be his old team.
In discussing free agency, Rams general manager Les Snead said the team hadn’t closed the door on bringing back Barron — but at less than the $8 million ($5 million base salary and $3 million roster bonus) he would have cost Los Angeles in 2019 under his contract.
“We’re going to continue to monitor his market, right?” Snead said. “We felt like by releasing him, he would be able to get a sense of — and he deserved that, was as healthy as he’s been at the end of the year and had gotten over some of the surgeries and was playing well — what is his value today?”
Barron and Cory Littleton served as the Rams’ starting inside linebackers in the 2018 season, when Los Angeles won the NFC championship and lost 13-3 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
Littleton is a restricted free agent, and the Rams put a second-round tender on him to try to make sure he’ll be back for 2019.
Los Angeles has only two inside linebackers officially on the roster right now — Travin Howard and Micah Kiser.
A seventh-round draft choice from TCU last year, Howard spent most of 2018 on the Rams’ practice squad and has never played in an NFL game.
A fifth-round draft choice from Virginia last year, Kiser played in every game in 2018, but he didn’t take a snap with the Los Angeles’ defense. Kiser was on the field for 298 special-teams plays during the regular season.
“There’s probably a little more work to do at that position through this process,” Snead said.
The Rams have signed two free agents so far — re-signing outside linebacker Dante Fowler and adding safety Eric Weddle after he’d been released by the Baltimore Ravens.
Barron had been a starting linebacker for the Rams for the past four seasons. As an outside linebacker in a 4-3 setup, Barron made 113 tackles in 2015 and 117 tackles in 2016. When Los Angeles shifted to a 3-4 base defense in 2017, Barron shifted to inside linebacker. He made 85 tackles in 14 games in 2017 and 60 tackles in 12 games in 2018, when he missed the first four games of the season with injuries.
Barron entered the NFL as a safety. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him the seventh selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he had started the first 37 games of his career at strong safety when the Bucs traded him to the Rams on Oct. 28, 2014, for fourth- and sixth-round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.
At St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Barron earned All-State recognition for the Saints’ AHSAA Class 5A championship football team in 2007. Barron also starred in track and field at St. Paul’s. He won the shot put and triple jump in 2007 and the discus, long jump, shot put and triple jump in 2008 at the AHSAA Class 5A outdoor championship meet.
At Alabama, Barron played on the Crimson Tide’s BCS national-championship teams of the 2009 and 2011 seasons. He was an All-SEC safety three times and received All-American recognition in 2011.