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The Anthony Barr Question

Should the Vikings keep their Pro Bowl linebacker?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest: during the 2014 draft, I really, really wanted the Vikings to take Johnny Manziel. So when I heard “With the ninth pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Anthony Barr,” I was disappointed. This is one of many reasons I’ll rarely question Rick Spielman’s decision making, and one of many reasons I’ll constantly question my own decision making.

That pick was undoubtedly a good one. Obviously there were other good players picked later in that round (Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald) but the Vikings addressed a need and also got a guy who’d go to four Pro Bowls in his first five seasons. Pro Bowl appearances aren’t always a great measure of success because so many guys end up pulling out of the game, but four straight Pro Bowls is nothing to scoff at. So before we get into the financials of keeping Barr, let’s just remember this: the guy is a stud.

Last season, Barr made a healthy $12.3 million on his fifth-year option. The Vikings could’ve tried to sign him to an extension and alleviated his short-term cap hit, but that didn’t end up mattering. Now, though, he’s set to make a lot more money, whether it’s in Minnesota or elsewhere.

First, the options: the Vikings could hit Barr with the franchise tag, something they’ve only done twice since the tag was introduced in 1993 (the two guys make for a good Vikings trivia question). According to OverTheCap, tagging Barr would cost the Vikings $14.9 million in 2019, which would make him Minnesota’s second-highest paid player behind Kirk Cousins. That’s a lot for a guy who had an up-and-down 2018 season.

The Vikings could also try to sign him to a long-term deal, either after tagging him or just in general. For what it’s worth, the two other times the Vikings used the franchise tag, they ended up negotiating long term deals. Minnesota could also use the transition tag, which would cost about $12.3 million.

So if you’re against keeping Barr, I get it. They guy has been inconsistent and he’s gonna command a ton of money, whether it’s with the Vikings or with another team. Minnesota also has already locked up the rest of its core to long-term deals. When Cousins’ deal expires in 2021, the Vikings will still have Stefon Diggs, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph, Eric Kendricks and others under contract.

But allow me to make the case for Barr. According to Pro Football Focus, 2018 was Barr’s best season since 2015, and that was headlined by his improvement as a pass-rusher. His pass-rushing productivity ranked first among qualifying linebackers for the past season, but he’s the type of player who can’t always be measured by stats. He’s never gonna put up tackle numbers like Kendricks, and he doesn’t rush the passer enough to come up with sack numbers rivaling Hunter or Griffen. A lot of his impact is his ability to cover multiple positions and fly to the ball at all times.

For those who want to prioritize re-signing Sheldon Richardson, consider this: The Vikings had the best defense in the league in 2017, without Richardson but with Barr. Richardson is a very good player who will make any team better. But he doesn’t offer the same value over a replacement that Barr does.

Barr is exactly the type of player Mike Zimmer wanted to build his defense around. He’s able to adapt to any scheme and can alter his role to fit whatever players are around him. He’s built up chemistry with Kendricks and the rest of Minnesota’s front seven, and it’d take time for the Vikings to build that back up with someone else.

That’s why the Vikings need to do everything they can to keep Barr. The 2018 season was a disappointment by almost any metric, but this team isn’t going to be blown up. Spielman needs to address the offensive line and Cousins needs to, quite frankly, figure it out. If those things happen, there’s no reason the Vikings can’t be a Super Bowl contender next season.

The Vikings still have to be operating in a Super Bowl window, and getting rid of Barr would almost certainly make the team worse in the short-term. With the way the rest of the roster is constructed, that would be a mistake that could cost the Vikings a chance to compete at the highest level.