Anthony Barr remains in a state of limbo as the offseason begins. There's a chance that in just under two months, the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker will hit the free-agent market in search of his next opportunity outside of Minnesota. There’s also a possibility that before that, when the franchise tag window opens Feb. 19, the Vikings could apply that designation to Barr to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Though Barr knows that day is fast approaching, he isn’t focused on orchestrating how his pending free agency will play out.
“I’m not sure there really is a plan,” Barr said during Pro Bowl practice. “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.”
Speaking to reporters in Orlando this week, Barr detailed the long, ongoing process that has been on his mind for years. When the Vikings did not work out a long-term deal with him last offseason, all signs pointed to Barr hitting the open market after he played out his fifth-year option. Though he has stated his desire to stay in Minnesota – the team that drafted him ninth overall in 2014 – Barr has repeatedly deferred to the business side of negotiations, which may result in the two sides parting ways.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” he 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, 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 season had its share of ups and downs, marred by inconsistent play and a hamstring injury that kept him out for weeks. He got off to a slow start, but he was able to turn it around when his specific game plan changed, particularly when Barr was called on to rush the passer.
That was something for which the Vikings prepared throughout training camp, sending Barr off to work with the defensive linemen during drill periods, which foreshadowed a larger role as an edge rusher -- one he has repeatedly said he prefers.
“I think it plays to my strengths more so, I think I’m better going forward than backward,” Barr said following a two-sack performance against Miami in Week 15. “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).”
His effectiveness as a blitzer paid dividends for Minnesota. His three sacks were the most he has had in a season since 2015. And he generated 23 quarterback pressures on 94 rushes, according to Pro Football Focus, which made him one of the league’s best blitzing linebackers.
Though Barr may have outgrown the part he was drafted to play in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 scheme, the linebacker wouldn’t delve into what he’d like to see his role become in the future. Joining a system that would allow him to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, tasked with regularly rushing the QB, would probably come with significantly more money than what Minnesota could afford to pay him.
“I don’t know,” Barr said. “I don’t really like to speak in hypotheticals too much, because who knows if I’m going to be back or not. 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.”
Within the next month, the Vikings could effectively give Barr, 26, a sizable raise by placing the franchise tag on him, but they could also look to move him off their books via a trade. The cost to tag Barr is estimated to be around $15 million; that seems like an unlikely move given its salary-cap restrictions.
Barr may hit free agency after making $12.3 million in the final year of his rookie contract. If he does, he would likely have the chance to be paid more like a pass-rusher than a traditional linebacker. He is expected to draw a handful of teams willing to tap into an underused part of his game.