For starters, the Minnesota Vikings already had a teaser detailing life after Anthony Barr. It was called “2020,” and the film was not suitable for children. The Vikings posted their worst defensive numbers in most metrics since the pre-Mike Zimmer days of 2013.
So, when Sean Borman of VikingsTerritory mentioned life-after-Barr as a sooner-than-later possibility on Friday night, folks sat up from the backs of their seats.
Anthony Barr earns a lot of money – especially for a non-EDGE linebacker. In fact, he will account for more funds via cap hit in 2021 than Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and Harrison Smith. Is he a better football player than those men? No, not really.
But he is an integral part of head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense. His absence due to a pectoral muscle tear in 2020 was felt throughout the team. Barr is a reliable tackler and leader. And when he isn’t tasked with covering true-blue WR1s (see: 2018 Los Angeles Rams game), he is admirable in pass coverage.
Vikings faithful entered the 2021 offseason under the mindset that Barr will probably reschedule his contract in some capacity. Therefore, when news oozes in a “not so fast” vernacular, those same Vikings enthusiasts revisit the drawing board. Barr was standoffish about leaving the Vikings in 2018 – he nearly married the New York Jets – but returned to Minnesota after an emotional about-face.
The offseason will change tremendously if Barr is one of the “shock releases” foreshadowed by the augmented COVID salary-cap fallout. Life without Barr throws a wrench into best-laid plans.
Eric Wilson Is Non-Expendable
Anthony Barr is an admirable tackler inside Zimmer’s defense. Eric Wilson is a step below that designation. In 2019, Barr missed 2.5% of tackles – a magnificent percentage. When Wilson commanded oodles of playing time amid the pandemic season, he missed 12.2% of all his potential tackles.
Barr is preferable to Wilson if only for this statistic. Minnesota missed too many tackles in 2020, and it was one of the reasons the defense felt so clumsy.
But if Barr bolts, Wilson must remain with the Vikings. Wilson is a free agent and will begin listening to offers in about three weeks. He will not fetch gobs of money, yet the Vikings may be able to live without him if Barr stays with the team [as was expected until Friday night].
With Barr, Wilson is fairly expendable. The Vikings could sneak by with the promotion of a man already on the roster or the signing of a bargain-bin player to replace Wilson. Without Barr, the first week of free agency leaves the Vikings with an “Eric Kendricks and who the hell else?” vibe at linebacker. Yuck. This is not a comfortable place to live for a team seeking to rectify the NFL’s fourth-worst defense from a season ago. The Vikings should not fancy a Skid Row approach heading into 2021 at any spot on the roster.
Retention of Todd Davis – a Tackle Machine
Should Barr stay rigid on his anti-restructure stance and head yonder, the team cannot scrape by with the strategy they used regarding other roster spots in 2020. Zimmer plugged-and-played men like Shamar Stephen at nose tackle, Jaleel Johnson at 3DT, and Jalyn Holmes at DE (the notorious offensive guard spots speak for themselves). Those solutions – as a sum of all parts – were not conducive to winning football.
Barr’s exodus would necessitate replacement by the Vikings with someone verifiably capable of production. In terms of tackling, Todd Davis could handle the task. Davis saw bits and pieces of action with Minnesota in 2020. He was scrappy and productive in those moments. He came to the Vikings from the Denver Broncos last year – a team which he tallied north of 100 tackles on separate occasions in 2018 and 2019. The man can tackle. And, he’s only 28 years old.
In peak form, Davis performs all linebacking duties pretty well. On the whole, he is not as good as Barr because Barr is often sent to blitz in Zimmer’s defense. Davis can blitz, but the Broncos did not ask that of him too often. Think of it this way: Barr is a more astute asset via passing defense whereas Davis is more renowned for run-stopping.
Nevertheless, Kendricks-Davis-Wilson is a more alluring threesome than Kendricks-Wilson-Other or Kendricks-Other-Other. The “other” scenarios are real if Barr skips town.
FA or Draft Replacements
Unfortunately – no matter how one dices it – strongside linebacker becomes another need if Barr has proverbially “played his final game as a Viking.” Minnesota already has needs to check off this list to ensure 2021 is a Super Bowl-contending adventure: defensive line, offensive line, free safety, and veteran cornerback.
General Manager Rick Spielman would be forced to examine a Barr replacement in free agency or the draft. In free agency, players like K.J. Wright of the Seattle Seahawks or Denzel Perryman from the Los Angeles Chargers will be available at a reasonable price.
Losing Barr would be a downgrade to the defensive prospect of returning to Zimmer-ian form. Barr was Zimmer’s very first draft choice. He’s remained in Minnesota seven years running for a reason – Barr is a Zimmer guy.
Life without Barr gets ultra-cloudy. It is not impossible to navigate, but the ever-important offseason to-do list expands if Barr is serious about not renegotiating.