It seems like the never-ending saga that is the Anthony Barr contract situation for the Minnesota Vikings is actually nearing its end as the deadline to franchise tag free agents came and went on Tuesday without the team slapping the tag on Barr or his defensive peer, Sheldon Richardson. Neither was much of a surprise for those in the know. Based on Barr’s position, and the history of teams not tagging outside linebackers, as well as what seems to be an increasingly sour relationship between Barr (or at least his agent) and the Vikings. The Vikings are a team that has worked its magic to sign other “core” Vikings players over the past few seasons, but could never quite figure things out with Barr.
That could be for a few reasons, either Barr wants too much money or that Barr wants out of Minnesota because of some of the things Zimmer has said about him in the media (or some combination of both). A third option could be that the Vikings simply don’t have enough money to sign Barr, which is the case right now, but I’m sure that the Vikings could’ve found a way to sign him months ago had he shown some sort of leeway or interest. Either way, the odds of Barr leaving the Vikings had seemingly increased with each passing day this off-season and that idea has many teams, or fans/writers for teams, salivating at the concept of Barr joining their ranks. Barr leaving is a foregone conclusion now. Unless for some reason the free agent market for him collapses and he decides to take the latest deal the Vikings offered. This isn’t going to happen for many reasons, the main being that the free agent market for outside linebackers outside of Barr is made up of a lot of guys that teams would have to Wikipedia. So, let’s take a look at what yesterday meant in the grand scheme of things and where the Vikings go from here.
With the deadline for franchising a player now gone Barr is set to hit the free agent market. Even if somehow the market collapsed and he did return, signing Barr would be tough, as the Vikings only have about $5.25 million in cap space as of the writing of this article. This is about a third of the amount needed to franchise Barr. The amount to franchise tag being around $15.8 million for the season for outside linebackers. $5.25 million is under half of what his current salary of around $12.5 million is. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for the Vikings to replace him, but they could still restructure other contracts (Everson Griffen or Kyle Rudolph, for example) to give themselves breathing room before free agency starts at 4 p.m. a week from today, on March 13th.
Beyond that, it’s doubtful that Barr would’ve signed a long term deal if franchise tagged as he has had over a year to do just that and hasn’t. Perhaps he’s upset that the Vikings signed his position group and college partner Eric Kendricks to a deal before him,despite Kendricks having an additional year on his contract. Perhaps he just wants a max deal, something a long the lines of Khalil Mack, whose contract in Chicago is one of the biggest in the game at $90 million guaranteed (with a whopping $60 million dollar signing bonus.) Who knows, but it’s actually a big surprise considering how much love Zimmer has given Barr, especially lately, as a captain of his defense and the first draft pick Zimmer made as a head coach, something he brought up this past weekend at the combine (according to ESPN.com).
“Anthony was my number one pick as a head coach, right? I love him as far as the things he does for the organization, the football team. It’s just really going to depend on where the numbers go. … But the way it is with the cap, we have to budget where we’re going. So if it goes to, if Barr gets paid $18 million, it probably ain’t going to happen, you know?”
That’s exactly it. Regardless of who wants what, the Vikings simply can’t even really afford a journeyman veteran outside linebacker at this point, let alone one of the biggest free agents at the position in recent memory. That’s why there was a lot of ink (or digital ink, anyway) spilled about the Vikings restructuring the deals of players like Everson Griffen and Kyle Rudolph in the hopes that they’d be able to re-sign Barr. That hasn’t happened, at least not yet, so it’s looking like Barr is gone as he should get between $12 to $15 million a season, at least, in a 4-3 scheme. However, the sky could be the limit if he ends up in a 3-4 scheme, like the previously mentioned Khalil Mack. A return to a 3-4 would get Barr back to his specialty coming out of college as an edge rusher as opposed to having him drop back into coverage like he had under Zimmer’s scheme. Barr has had mixed results in the Vikings current scheme, at least if you watch the Rams game from last season and depending on who you talk to.
If you type Anthony Barr into Google News, you’ll see writers from every team chomping at the bit for Barr to join their respective teams. The same can be said for the writers covering Barr and the Vikings, myself included, in terms of how they’ll be able to replace Barr and with whom. Despite the Rams game, Barr was a good-to-great coverage linebacker in addition to being a great edge rusher. He’s led all linebackers in pass-rushing productivity according to a sponsor of this site Pro Football Focus, as he generated 23 pressures on 94 pass-rush snaps/attempts last season. That could mean scary things especially if he joins a 3-4 team, as he’s incredibly gifted athletically and also in terms of his size. He very well could end up being on draft mate Khalil Mack’s level in terms of disrupting opposing offenses and that could leave a lot of Vikings fans (and writers) thinking about what could’ve been had the Vikings used him in that way more often.
Considering that he has successfully pressured opposing quarterbacks on more than 25% of his rushes, it’s not hard to think that if you increase the amount of total rushes, he could become the focal point of a defense which would justify the type of contract he will most likely receive. Beyond the stats though are the intangibles he brought as a leader of the defense both in terms of his flexibility and in terms of how he communicated things to the rest of the defense. Those things aren’t easily replaced, but luckily the Vikings defense has no shortage of core defensive players that can pick up the slack left behind by Barr in that regard.
So what do the Vikings do? Kirby O’Connor, who writes for this site and hosts the ‘Vikings on the Clock’ Podcast on purpleTERRITORY Radio, recently wrote a glowing profile of Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman, a linebacker who the Vikings could draft after the first round of April’s draft. There are a lot of options in the draft, actually, but considering the needs that the Vikings have on their offensive line, it’s looking like they’ll either need to pick up someone in the later rounds or look at low-cost free agents to either replace Barr or provide depth at the position. The good news is that the Vikings have shown that they’re pretty good at turning late round, or even undrafted, talent into productive players, as they have a great system defense that can plug in new players like the undrafted Holton Hill or even Barr’s replacement in a few games last season, Eric Wilson, and continue to stifle opposing offenses.
The free agent market for outside linebackers is pretty thin, at least until Barr officially enters it, which should drive up his cost and make his return to the Vikings next to impossible. That means the team will most likely look to the draft, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as they have limited needs elsewhere and even people like me who think they need to go all-in on the offensive line realize that they can’t take an offensive lineman with every pick. Losing Barr will be tough, but he isn’t irreplaceable because Zimmer and company have built a great system defense with a lot of core players locked up well into the next decade and that means they can handle losses like this and continue to perform at a high level. Eric Wilson also performed admirably when covering for Barr and while he’s no Barr, having him fill in this season, while the Vikings bring in someone young shore up the position for the future, wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.