The AFC-NFC Pro Bowl is over. The AFC won 26-7, and the internet lauded as a highlight one of those lateral-fest fumble-rooskie plays following an NFC interception. The problem was that in the Pro Bowl there is little tackling of note and not much further incentive to excel. So, given that, this play had the potential to score, but it kind of petered out into nothing. Not unlike the game.
But it’s important to know going into the game what to expect. It’s the Pro Bowl, and while we would all like to see an actual competitive game break out, there isn’t a one of us that wants a player from our favorite team to get hurt in this exhibition game. So, the best news that can come out of a Pro Bowl was that a good time was had by all, no one got hurt and it is over. Which it is.
However, one thing that happens at Pro Bowl weekend is that players (who are not playing in the Super Bowl the following week) often speak. And while both Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr, a couple Vikings in the game, got their hands on the football in that aforementioned highlight, the biggest news was what Barr told ESPN about his impending contraction situation:
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Barr said. “It’s been a whole year, two years really, coming, so – my contract was up last year, had the option, and this year now it’s really up. So, the possibilities I feel like are endless, and I could be anywhere. I want to be back [in Minnesota], like I’ve said throughout the last year, but like I’ve been saying, also, I know my worth, and I know what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to do it for me.”
Barr’s contract situation (now that most of the Viking coaching vacancies have been filled) is setting up to be the most contentious and concerning one of the offseason—among Vikings fans anyway. Find a story about Barr of late and the comments often are primarily in the category of “See ya, Double Nickels!” (Personally, I would not concur.)
Last season, Barr earned $12.3 million in the final year of his contract. While the Vikings spent a lot of time re-signing other members of the defense, Barr’s contract didn’t get done and he is primed to become a free agent and start talking with other teams on March 11. It will be very interesting to see what happens.
“I’m not sure there really is a plan,” Barr said. “I think it kind of dictates itself. I’ve done what I’ve done and what’s going to happen is kind of out of my control. Obviously, I’ll have a choice, hopefully, as to where I want to go, but I can’t control much more than what I’m doing now.”
So, what is the Purple to do with Barr? The Vikings are said to be $10 million under the salary cap (which some impending roster changes should affect). But, suffice it to say, that can’t all go to one player—particularly one who has occasionally underachieved since his dynamic rookie year.
On one side of the equation, we have Barr’s diminishing number of “splash plays” since that first season, the moment when head coach Mike Zimmer called Barr out for “a tendency to coast” in 2016 and his occasional absence from the stats sheet. On the other side is Barr’s great rookie year, when he showed (before he got hurt) just how talented he is, the oft-heard Zimmer comment regarding Barr’s intelligence on the field, and Barr’s versatility and increased ability to rush the quarterback. In fact, last summer, Zimmer squelched Barr trade rumors by saying, “Anthony is my guy, number one.” (I wish he would have said, “Anthony is my guy, Barr none.” But maybe that’s just me.)
This “Barr as an edge rusher” is a real thing—and it could play into the linebacker’s future going forward. The Vikings had Barr spending time working with the defensive linemen in training camp and then gave him the opportunity to play the edge rusher role as the season progressed—to the benefit of the team, and Barr, who mentioned it late in the year.
“I think it plays to my strengths more so, I think I’m better going forward than backward,” Barr told ESPN after the Miami game in Week 15—when he recorded two sacks. “I can do it, but it’s more natural for me and I’m able to affect the game more when I [rush the passer].”
The Vikings run a 4-3 defense, which is not exactly the right scheme for sending in linebackers off the edge. But Zimmer’s defense is predicated on unpredictability, and we saw Barr rushing the passer as well as covering receivers within that scheme. But would Barr get more of a chance to blitz off the edge if he signed with a team employing a 3-4 scheme?
“I don’t really like to speak in hypotheticals too much, because who knows if I’m going to be back or not?” Barr said. “Our defense is what we do. I don’t think it’s going to be a whole [lot] different than what we’ve done in the past. We make adjustments throughout offseasons and through the course of the season, but for the most part we are who we are. It’s been good to me, so we’ll see what happens.”
Anthony Barr is set up for a nice payday with some team next season. For Barr backers, those words, “we’ll see what happens” should be as concerning coming from him as they occasionally are when uttered by the President of the United States. It is a concern that Barr isn’t signed. It’s a concern that he will be looking for a nice raise, and the Vikings don’t have a lot of cap room. It’s a concern that the Vikings defensive scheme doesn’t play to Barr’s strengths.
It’s a huge concern to think that he could be playing lights out again for another team.
The biggest issue is the salary cap. It is a concern every year. And just like annually (and wrongly) counting Marcus Sherels out on making the roster, it seems like we are always wringing our hands over the cap until the cap master Rob Brzezinski gets the job done. His work this year will be exceedingly cut out for him, in particular where it comes to re-signing Anthony Barr (which I hope the Vikings will do).
We’ll see what happens.