Anthony Barr remains in a state of limbo as the offseason progresses. In just under two months, there’s a chance the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker will hit the free-agent market in search of his next opportunity outside of Minnesota. There’s also the possibility that before that, when the franchise tag window opens on Feb. 19, the Vikings could apply that designation to prevent Barr from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Though Barr knows this 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 that may end up with both 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 a hamstring injury that kept him out for weeks and inconsistent play. He was able to turn around his slow start to 2018 when his specific game plan changed, particularly when Barr was called on to rush the passer.
It’s something the Vikings prepared for 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 repeatedly has said that 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 while he generated 23 quarterback pressures on 94 rushes, according to Pro Football Focus, which made him one of the league’s best blitzing linebackers.
While 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. The chance to join a system that would allow him to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker tasked regularly with rushing the QB probably would come with a significant increase in pay compared to 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 look to move him off their books via a trade, too. The cost to tag Barr is estimated to be around $15 million, which seems like an unlikely move given its salary-cap restrictions.
If Barr hits free agency after making $12.3 million in the final year of his rookie contract, his list of suitors and the chance to get a contract where he’s paid more like a pass-rusher than a traditional linebacker is expected to draw a handful of teams willing to tap into an underused part of his game.