Anthony Barr and the Vikings are approaching a forgettable anniversary.
The veteran linebacker first realized last spring he wasn’t getting a contract extension and sat out a week of voluntary OTAs while buying an insurance policy on himself. In a December sit-down with the Star Tribune, Barr said he personally got involved in contract negotiations, only to quickly eject.
The Vikings’ offers were “not really what I had expected,” Barr said.
The Vikings could take control of the contract of the four-time Pro Bowl player Tuesday, but it seems an unlikely action given the cost, the team’s salary cap situation and the front office’s history with the franchise tag. A two-week window has opened for teams to use the one-year franchise or transition tags, which the Vikings last placed on linebacker Chad Greenway in 2011 before agreeing to a long-term deal before the start of that season.
The deadline is 3 p.m. on March 5 to apply the tag.
There are no indications the two parties are close or yet reengaged on an extension, with the last public comments coming from Barr when he said, “I could be anywhere,” before the Pro Bowl.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was last made available to reporters on Nov. 6 and said “we’ll always look at ways to keep our players the best we can” when asked if the team was still working to keep Barr.
Money is a big factor. The Vikings can create upward of $20 million in salary cap space with a few cuts (Everson Griffen, Andrew Sendejo and Mike Remmers), but there are still 13 unrestricted free agents, including Sheldon Richardson, and other needs led by offensive linemen.
The franchise tag for a linebacker? It would make Barr the highest-paid Viking not named Kirk Cousins at a projected $15.9 million, according to former agent-turned-NFL analyst Joel Corry at CBS Sports. It’s a price likely too steep for this roster.
At the end of the season, Barr said “in a perfect world” he would be back in 2019 with Minnesota, where he started his NFL career as Mike Zimmer’s first Vikings draft pick. But he has also consistently made negotiations sound far apart since last spring, when the front office signed fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks to a five-year, $50 million extension.
The Vikings have exclusive negotiating rights with Barr until March 11, when legal tampering begins. He can sign elsewhere starting March 13.
Barr blamed an NFL system that can keep players like him from free agency, through fifth-year options and the franchise tag, until 27 years or older.
“If I’m wrong about that, I’m wrong,” Barr said in December. “If they don’t care, whatever. There are 31 other teams out there. I’m sure somebody will be willing to take me on.”
Barr’s value on the open market is difficult to project because of his position. He will be 27 next season, young enough to try whatever a different coaching staff wants. He was a 3-4 outside linebacker at UCLA, where he had 23½ sacks in two seasons, before converting to a stack linebacker in the Vikings’ 4-3 front.
If he stays, how do the Vikings get more out of him? Barr has twice been rated Pro Football Focus’ most efficient blitzing linebacker (2015, 2018), but he has only cracked the top 10 of most frequent blitzers once in five seasons.
If he goes, how will the Vikings defense — which held the Saints to 23 points and piled 10 sacks on Detroit’s Matthew Stafford last season without Barr — respond to his absence? And how can Barr grow in a system that might allow more chances or align him differently in a defense? Barr pointed around the league to compare disciplines of various defenses.
“If you watch a lot of teams — the Panthers, Miami, Oakland, Cincinnati — a lot of linebackers are going under blocks and not playing their gaps,” Barr said in December. “Either they get gashed or they make a big splash play. We play sound across the board. I think it also hurts stat numbers because we’re going to hold our gap and force the ball to go elsewhere.”
The question now is if Barr will be forced to go elsewhere.
Staff writer Mark Craig contributed to this report.