The first days of Vikings organzied team activities (OTAs) featured some salivating moments. These included a few Kirk Cousins dimes, a handful of mano-a-mano duels between Xavier Rhodes and Stefon Diggs and a slick catch in traffic from Adam Thielen. And one notable absence: Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr.
Barr has been one of the key figures on an elite Vikings defense ever since entering the league in 2014. His size and speed have made him a Swiss Army knife, able to attack the run from sideline to sideline, rush the A-gap or off the edge and defend running backs and tight ends as well as any linebacker in football. Barr’s utility has not gone unnoticed, either. He has been rewarded with three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl.
Generally, a player of Barr’s caliber is a priority re-signing. But the Vikings are in an abrnomal situation. For one, they have superstar All-Pro talent at all three levels on defense. A quick census puts Barr at the fourth- or fifth-best player on his own unit. While most of the Vikings’ defensive stars are under contract for awhile, when their time comes, Harrison Smith, Rhodes and Everson Griffen will all likely be higher priorities than Barr.
But the real kicker is the Vikings’ 2019 free agency situation. Heading into this offseason, five significant players were unsigned past 2018. A couple of those guys have been taken care of; Eric Kendricks signed a five-year extension and Trae Waynes had his fifth-year option picked up for next season. That leaves three names without deals and about $32 million in cap space for 2019. By all indications, the other two free agents, Diggs and Danielle Hunter, will be higher on the Vikings’ list than Barr.
The amount of cap room is flexible, but let’s assume that $32 million is the number they will be working with to sign those three guys. Diggs and Hunter are likely to command value beyond their production, given their youth, talent and positions. Diggs will probably be in the $15 million range. Hunter will not be much different. That number for Hunter may seem high, given he had only seven sacks last year. But he will be only 24 when he takes his first snap on his next contract. Pass rushers with his combination of pass rush ability and youth do not hit the market often.
Simple math shows that Barr will be the odd man out. It was a little surprising at the time when Kendricks was the first of the five to receive an extension. But with Barr already making $12 million this year and in line for at least that in his next deal, Kendricks’ contract makes a lot of sense. He has similar talent and versatility, though a little less size than Barr. Kendricks will be a little more costly on the back end, but next year he will make only $6.6 million. That is a bargain, compared to his productivity.
The Vikings signing of Cousins essentially made it a lock that someone was going to get the raw end next offseason. Many thought it would be Waynes or Kendricks, but they were the first to get locked in for next year. Diggs and Hunter will be expensive, but presumably worth it. Yet another name to consider is Sheldon Richardson. He could be in line for another deal in Minnesota if he produces in 2018.
So now, the Vikings will have to deal with a slightly less enthused Barr. There have never been any indications of Barr being a poor or disgruntled teammate, so it is not as if this will have an effect come week one. But Barr is already skipping OTAs in hopes of a new contract, according to reports. Signs point to him being disappointed.
At the very least, it seems unlikely the Vikings will come to a decision on Barr during OTAs. They would be smart to try to lock down Hunter long-term now. But by the same token, it would not behoove Hunter to come to any decisions this offseason. If he has a double-digit sack season, he could be looking at a massive payday. Same could go for Diggs, though he seems most likely to re-sign.
The Vikings’ moves these past few months were largely in line with building a Super Bowl team for 2018. 2019 and beyond was secondary, and Barr will be a major part of this year’s squad regardless. But if this is his last season in purple, the defense could begin looking a whole lot different sooner than some expected.
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