Jets LB Eric Barton has by far been the best Jets' off-season aquisition of 2004. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
- Few could argue with the successful campaign the New York Jets have experienced this season. Despite a setback against Pittsburgh last Sunday, nine wins in 13 games is certainly reason to be optimistic during this memorable season. Ironically though, the club’s luck was quite unfavorable at the turn of the calendar year. Following last year’s 6-10 debacle, the Jets suffered a disheartening blow when coveted free agent CB Antoine Winfield stiffed the Jets to sign a last-minute blockbuster deal with the Minnesota Vikings. As it turned out, losing the bidding war for Winfield might have been a blessing in disguise. With a heap of cash in their piggy bank, the Jets filled a big need by signing five-year veteran LB Eric Barton, formerly of the Oakland Raiders. In terms of media attention, Barton has kept a low profile, but a quick glance at the stat sheet shows Barton has arguably been the team’s best offseason addition. Additionally, whenever a big play on the Jets' defense is made, it seems Barton is in on it or close by. Barton has consistently been a big playmaker week after week.
It comes as no surprise that Barton has become one of the team’s top hit men this year. In five seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Barton has established himself as one of the surest tacklers in the business. Drafted in the fifth-round of the 1999 NFL Draft, Barton’s career got off to a slow start, recording just 75 tackles in his first three NFL seasons. However, during the Raiders Super Bowl season in 2002, Barton exploded onto the scene with 125 tackles, including a 13-tackle performance in the league’s biggest game. Last season, the Raiders struggled, but Barton was one of their brightest stars, tallying a career-high 132 tackles from his weak side LB position. With huge salary cap problems in Oakland following last season, Barton became expendable to the glee of Terry Bradway & Co.
Barton has been a pleasant addition to a LB corps that jettisoned geriatric LBs Mo Lewis and Marvin Jones last offseason. The club recognized an upgrade at the position was essential in re-tooling the defense for a playoff run. While upcoming players, like Barton, usually never hit the free agent market, the 6-2, 245-pound linebacker refused to bad-mouth Oakland for letting in depart via free agency this past spring. Instead, Barton is focused on the present and is excited to be a part of something special with the Jets this year.
“I know the NFL is a business,” Barton said. “(The Raiders) had to take care of them and I had to take care of myself. I miss some of my friends I had (in Oakland) a little, but it didn’t really effect me at all.”
As the second-leading tackler on the team behind rookie LB Jonathan Vilma, Barton’s production has certainly been unaffected by the change of address. In fact, Barton’s acclimation to a new team and defensive scheme has been quite impressive. The LB, who after 13 weeks has 80 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries, humbly credits the job of coordinator Donnie Henderson for assisting him and the entire unit in preparing for this season.
“We know this defense like the back of our hand,” Barton said. “We’ve been running it since April. When (Donnie) makes a call, we know what he’s trying to do. We know how he’s trying to attack and what side he wants the pressure from. We’re playing together as a unit.”
Indeed, the Jets’ defensive unit has been on a tear this season. Through 13 games this year, the defense ranks second in the NFL in points allowed (14.7) and seventh in yards allowed (288.6). Barton sees a lot of similarities between this defense and the one he played in during the Raiders Super Bowl appearance in 2002.
“Both (defenses) play hard, get to the ball, create turnovers,” Barton explained. “The makeup of the defense is totally different (compared to 2002). We had a lot of older veterans there.”
Contrarily, only three starters are over 30 years old on a unit with an average age of 26. If Barton and the Jets’ defense continue to excel in their first year in Henderson’s scheme, there is no telling what damage they can inflict to opposing offenses this year and for years to come.