EAGAN, Minn. -- The player nicknamed the “Hit Man” rarely gets emotional.
As Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith reflected on linebacker Anthony Barr’s decision to turn down millions with the New York Jets to return to Minnesota in free agency, his voice drew quiet while he relayed just how deeply he was moved by the decision of his long-time teammate.
“I was pretty pumped about it. A guy making a choice like that, it was pretty big,” Smith said, choking up momentarily. “It doesn’t happen a lot in pro sports, even if it’s a couple million dollars, which means different things to different people. For him, it meant staying here.”
What Barr did struck a chord with Smith, who is more than just his locker mate and someone with whom he’s shared a field since Barr was drafted in 2014.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Smith said. “Honestly, I wanted him to go get as much money as he could make. Pro sports, it’s how things happen. I obviously wanted him here as well. So I wasn’t going to be upset one way or the other. It’s an emotional game and you make friendships and you make plays together and you’re pumped for the guy next to you. It’s why I play.”
The cutthroat business of the NFL is understood best by the players, who are privy to how these decisions affect themselves and their teammates. Ahead of free agency, linebacker Eric Kendricks was in the Los Angeles area working out with Barr and saw how much the decision weighed on him.
“Every morning he was on the phone, going through it while we were working out,” Kendricks said. “I tried to stay out of it as much as I could. I think I sent him a text as it was going down like, 'Man, it's going to be weird not playing with you.' Cause everyone was telling me like, 'Have you thought about it?' And I'd thought about it, but I hadn't really processed it up to that time. Everybody was just like kind of on me about it. Then I sent him a text like, 'Hey, it's going to be weird not playing with you,' and he was like, 'Just wait a second.' I'm like 'Oh, I see.' Everything kind of played out how it did. Couldn't be happier."
Kendricks, who signed a five-year extension last April, doesn’t know the stress firsthand that Barr experienced as a free agent. Within a matter of 24 hours during the legal tampering period, Barr committed to the Jets' offer that would have paid him an average of $15 million per year for five years, only to renege his decision and take less money to stay in Minnesota.
Knowing the type of money that was within Barr’s reach, Kendricks was convinced it was no longer a possibility that he and the guy he's known since his freshman season at UCLA would be sharing a field.
But Barr chose comfort over a big payday, and that will keep them in the same defense for years to come.
“You always want the best,” Kendricks said. “I wanted to see him get that big payday. You know, I wanted to see him get what he's earned. So, for him to take a step back and realize what truly makes him happy, that's huge. That just shows you a lot about him, our team and the kind of guys we got."