The biggest signing the Vikings made this offseason nearly didn’t happen, when Anthony Barr initially agreed to a contract with the New York Jets.
But the Vikings were able to grab Barr back at the last minute and sign him to a five-year, $67.5 million deal.
There had been some talk before Barr re-signed that he could be moved to defensive end to help the pass rush, which lost defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who signed a three-year, $37 million deal with the Browns. Richardson is one of the better interior pass rushers in the league.
But as the Vikings prepare to go through Organized Team Activities, coach Mike Zimmer said Barr will stay where he is.
“He’ll be a linebacker,” Zimmer said. “We’re doing a few different things defensively so you’ll get a chance to see how it looks, but we’re going to make a few changes with some of the things schematically just from our offseason study.”
Zimmer said the linebackers are one of the most solid parts of the defense.
“[Eric] Kendricks is a good player, Barr is a good player, [Ben] Gedeon is a good player. We drafted the kid from USC [Cameron Smith] and so far he looks good, we kind of like him,” Zimmer said. “We have Devonte Downs, who was basically redshirted last year so we’ll see how he is. Eric Wilson played a lot last year. I think we’ll be OK.”
Barr said that even though the Vikings defense ranked fourth in the NFL last season in yards and ninth in points, they are committed to being even better following an 8-8 season.
“There’s a little more sense of urgency this time around,” Barr said. “Just having a disappointing end to last year, I think guys are more on point and looking forward to practicing at a good pace.”
So much of the focus this offseason has been on the changes the Vikings made on offense, but bringing Barr back means the defense should remain one of the league’s best.
Zimmer said losing Richardson hurt, and the Vikings have to hope that defensive tackle Shamar Stephen can fill in.
“Sheldon is a good player, but in this business it is how everything goes,” Zimmer said. “Guys come and go, and you know one thing we have always done since I’ve been here is not worry about who we don’t have, we worry about who we do have.”
Twins roster in great shape
Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine should be commended for their work in signing right fielder Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco to smart long-term contracts.
The front office also has done a great job preparing the roster going forward. While the Twins have had incredible success this year, they have put themselves in good position for 2020, even though they will have some key players they have to try and re-sign.
As it stands right now, only five Twins are set for free agency at the end of this season in second baseman Jonathan Schoop, catcher Jason Castro and starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda. The team has options on designated hitter Nelson Cruz and starter Martin Perez.
They will once again have to navigate arbitration with a number of key players, including C.J. Cron, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Blake Parker, Taylor Rogers and Trevor May.
This year’s team has a $122.1 million payroll. They sit at $35.6 million in commitments for 2020, before arbitration.
Fleck sees growth in Gophers
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck recently said one positive he witnessed during spring football was that he saw a lot of talent both in upperclassmen and in some surprising freshmen.
“I thought [defensive lineman] Boye Mafe had a tremendous spring,” Fleck said. I thought [linebacker] Thomas Rush had a tremendous spring. [Linebacker] Mariano Sori-Marin. The next guys.
“Everybody expects [linebacker] Kamal Martin to play well and [linebacker] Carter Coughlin and [defensive back] Antoine Winfield Jr., and you know those types of guys. But it’s the guys that are going to be the backups to those guys — the third-down roles or certain roles with the football team that we need to continue to grow and raise to the level of starters. I was really proud of a lot of their progress.”
The season is still three months away, but several national projections believe the Gophers will finish second in the Big Ten West behind only Nebraska. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd placed the Gophers at No. 23 in his post-spring practice rankings.
Fleck said that one of the benefits of having low expectations last season means the team understands why they are picked where they are and how they can go about proving experts either right or wrong.
“People are expecting things, we’re the second-youngest team in America, but what we are is experienced,” Fleck said. “Now we can fall back on those experiences, educate them about the pressures and expectations that they’re going to have from the outside. No one is sitting there saying that this team is going to win the national championship from the outside, but there are expectations rising.”
• A nice note for Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is still in contract negotiations and attending OTAs: He was given a leadership in the community award from Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly’s charity organization.
• When Vikings defensive end Brian Robison officially announced his retirement earlier this month, he said that the best team he was a part of in his 11-year career was the 2017 squad that made the NFC Championship Game, losing at Philadelphia. “It was a brotherhood of guys that really cared about each other,” Robison said.
• The Vikings signed defensive end Karter Schult out of the defunct Alliance of American Football. The 25-year-old product of Northern Iowa had seven sacks in eight games for Salt Lake, the third-highest total in the league.
• The Timberwolves have never drafted No. 11 overall, but a few great players have been selected their recently, including Klay Thompson of the Warriors in 2011. It’s amazing to think the Wolves had the chance to draft both Thompson and Steph Curry; in 2011, the Wolves the No. 2 overall pick but selected Derrick Williams, who spent the 2018-19 season playing in Germany.
• Gophers catcher Eli Wilson, the son of former Gophers and major league catcher Dan Wilson, finished the regular season hitting .290 with 24 RBI in 49 games and also was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team.
• Luis Arraez, the 22-year-old Twins infielder who has had a great debut hitting .467 in seven games, is another big international signing the club got right. Arraez was signed in 2013 when he was only 16 years old out of Venezuela.
• The Gophers men’s basketball team ranks No. 38 in the country in recruiting for 2019, according to 247 Sports. The Gophers rank fourth in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland.