If the writing on the wall is correct, Sunday’s contest at US Bank Stadium will be the final game for Mike Zimmer as head coach of the Vikings. If a coaching move is made on Black Monday, as CBS’s Jason LaConfora reports, Zimmer’s exit and the subsequent coaching search will dominate conversation in the coming weeks.
There will be far less discussion about Anthony Barr likely playing his last game as a Viking.
Barr’s contract is up after this year and it isn’t realistic to think that a new regime will be looking to pour cap space into a a 30-year-old linebacker with persistent knee issues.
The first draft pick of the Zimmer era leaving the same time as Zimmer is apropos but it doesn’t feel like there is much nostalgia or reflection concerning Barr. It isn’t quite don’t-let-the-door-hit-you but it isn’t thanks-for-the-memories either.
In some ways, the lack of fanfare for Barr’s swan song is emblematic of how sports fans have changed.
If we went back 20 or 30 years and there was a player entering his presumed last game with a franchise after making four Pro Bowls and playing every snap on a team that went to the NFC Championship game ranking No. 1 in the NFL in yards and points, there would be a celebration of his tenure. They would show the guy on the video board and he’d get an endless ovation. But the perception of Barr’s career in Minnesota has been shaded by numbers and money. His box score stats, PFF grade and his cap hit, specifically.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, we relied on coaches, broadcasters, teammates and Pro Bowl voters to tell us who the good players were. Over the years, those groups have raved about Barr’s performance. Fans these days, however, have a way to check on whether the experts are right.
Over the years, Barr didn’t put up big traditional numbers. He registered 15.5 sacks and never came within a sniff of 100 tackles. He went three full seasons without an interception from 2016-2018 and forced a grand total of four fumbles from 2016 to 2021.
Outside of 2015, his PFF scores were middling. Barr always graded well rushing the passer but didn’t crack the top 10 overall past his strong 2015.
Barr quietly had a good season by the numbers this year, ranking 16th among full-time linebackers by PFF grades. He scored as the 12th best pass rusher at his position and 14th in coverage, right behind Demario Davis and Micah Parsons. With the defense struggling as much as it did, his play didn’t garner much attention. As usual, it wasn’t flashy, save for a tremendous interception in overtime against the Ravens. But the Vikings lost that game and it went largely forgotten.
If we just had access to his box score stats, it might have been more believable that there was some secret impact to his game that only the Football Men could see but that’s exactly what the PFF grades are meant to do — cross check consensus opinions.
So by the time the Vikings signed Barr to a $67 million contract in 2019, the general feeling was that he was overrated. When he signed the huge deal, he became overrated and overpaid in the eyes of many.
Again, 20 or 30 years ago it would have been heartwarming for fans that Barr returned rather than signing with the Jets. Instead it was worrisome. At OverTheCap.com, anyone could look at the Vikings’ salary cap situation and see that another expensive contract added to the mix with Kirk Cousins’ record-setting deal was going to make it tough to address other areas like the offensive line. The general public is also aware by now that only a few linebackers are true difference makers and paying them top dollar is dicey.
The public’s education — which is exciting when you think about how far our knowledge of the game has come in recent years — left many Vikings fans hardened to things that were true about Barr: He is tremendously intelligent. His size/speed combination is rare. He calls the defense and gets everyone lined up. He’s a calming influence when things are chaotic. He can plow over running backs on a blitz. He can get to throwing lanes that other linebackers can’t.
“His presence alone [makes an impact], just having him out there on the field, knowing that he understands the defense, understands how it needs to be ran, different checks, things like that,” future Hall of Famer Patrick Peterson said of Barr.
Barr has also given his heart to Minnesota.
When he spurned the Jets in 2019, he gave an emotional press conference in which he talked about struggling to imagine himself ever playing anywhere other than Minnesota. This year Barr was the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominee and Ed Block Courage award winner.
“Anthony is a great person,” Zimmer said on Monday. “You know, it was killing him at the beginning of the year. We never anticipated he’d be out that long. But he spent every waking moment in the training room, trying to get ready. He did things above and beyond the call that most people would do. He loves this organization, he loves his teammates, loves to play football. I’ve had many conversations with him about just what he means to me and this team and how much he loves being here.”
Barr hardly participated in training camp due to a knee issue and it appeared his season was in jeopardy. He worked his way back into the lineup a few weeks into the season and talked with earnest joy about finally getting back on the field.
“Man, just so happy,” Barr said. “I’d never worked so hard in my life to get to this point. I got a lot of help along the way, but I grinded for this. Just to have the opportunity to play again, man, I couldn’t be more thankful. Just got to keep pushing.”
It’s understandable that fans care more about production than they do a player’s love for the game or what he’s done off the field but it shouldn’t be ignored just because his PFF grade and salary cap hit don’t match up.
Barr earned the WPMOY nomination for his Raise the Barr Foundation, which provides scholarships to kids with single-parent homes like the one Anthony grew up in.
“Community work has been a big part of my life for a long time and the Raise the Barr is kind of built on the story of my mom and myself,” Barr said. “She’s a huge inspiration to be in my life and we’re looking to pass forward to the next and future generations.’’
These things matter.
The last eight years have put everyone through many ups and downs, from Zimmer to the fans. Barr has been there through all of it right along with Zimmer and you. And like the team, some times were better than others.
We can acknowledge the facts and stats while understanding that there will always be things that go beyond them. Barr is a reminder of that.
“I’ve had my down days, but fortunately I have a great support system with my family and friends,” Barr said. “I think realizing there’s a lot more to life than football. It’s been my life since I was 9 years old, so not having that part of it was tough. I promise you nobody wants to play more than me. It’s all I want to do.”
So as he walks out of US Bank Stadium, likely for the last time, Barr shouldn’t be considered just another dead cap number and hole to fill on defense, rather a player who was meaningful to the organization for a long time.