The Minnesota Vikings have a lot of young, talented players who are going to be looking for new contracts soon and one of the biggest names on that list is outside linebacker Anthony Barr. He is considered by many as one of the best up-and-coming linebackers in the NFL and he still has not fully tapped his potential.
He is entering his third year in the NFL and he never really played the stereotypical outside linebacker role until the Vikings drafted him. His role in college was more of an edge rusher, and before that he was one of his team’s running backs, so he is still adjusting to all the nuances of the position. With that, it’s impressive to see the high level he plays at week in and week out, especially since he is likely only going to keep getting better.
The Vikings organization, with general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer in charge, have shown that they like to make sure they sign their key players to extensions early, as a way to not even let them test the free agent market. They did so with safety Harrison Smith this offseason and now Barr could be one of their primary targets in the next couple years.
But what type of money could Barr expect to see? He is young, talented and has all the athleticism desired, but he has been plagued by the injury bug since entering the NFL.
He missed four games his rookie year when the coaching staff put him on the injured reserve to end the regular season and he missed two games last season, but was also banged up in a couple of the ones he played in. The Vikings defense is a different unit when Barr is healthy and on the field. Without him, the approach is a little different.
Barr has already had to miss almost all of the team’s offseason workouts so far, for an undisclosed reason, but Zimmer does not seem too concerned about it.
Despite his recent string of injuries, Barr should still fetch top dollar from the organization and be one of the cornerstones of their defense for years to come. Last season, he recorded 68 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception and seven pass deflections. That performance led Pro Football Focus, a sports analytics website that grades players based on their on-field performance, to give him a grade of 93.4.
That grade made him the second-highest rated linebacker in the NFL, and the highest rated outside linebacker, with the No. 1 overall linebacker being Carolina’s Luke Kuechly with a grade of 99.1.
So what type of payout could Barr expect to see if he continues to perform at this level over the next couple of seasons?
The two highest paid linebackers in the NFL at this moment are Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs (six years, $101 million) and Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers (five years, $66 million). It may be hard for Barr to earn that kind of money with the way things are right now because he plays a different style of football than them. They are both pass-rushing experts who are near the top of the league in sack totals every year, where Barr is more of a balanced player who does a little of everything.
Kuechly’s five-year, $61,801,565 contract may also be hard to justify for Barr because Kuechly is always one of the league leaders in tackles and he didn’t miss a game in his first three years in the league. It was not until this past season that he missed his first one when he had to miss three because of an injury.
One player’s contract that could end up being similar to Barr’s is Houston’s Brian Cushing. He signed a six-year deal back in 2014 that is worth $52.5 million. Like Barr, he has been plagued with an injury bug for a good portion of his career - while also missing time because of a suspension - but when he is on the field he is a difference-maker.
Cushing was only given a grade of 47.8 by PFF last season, but he still played in all 16 regular-season games and recorded 110 tackles, one forced fumble and three pass deflections. One reason his grade was so low, and an area of his game that Barr seems to surpass him in, is his pass defense.
In seven years in the NFL, Cushing has 13 sacks, eight interceptions - one returned for a touchdown - and 29 pass deflections. Barr has recorded 7.5 sacks, one interception and 10 pass deflections in just two seasons.
Another player that the Vikings could look to compare contracts to is Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David, who signed a five-year, $50.25 million deal back in 2015. PFF gave David a grade of 67.2 last season, but he still recorded 147 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three interceptions - one returned for a touchdown - and 13 pass deflections.
When the time comes, Barr is going to get paid, but it just becomes a matter of how much. A lot can change by the time his contract is up in 2018, or 2019 if the team uses the fifth-year option that comes with his rookie deal.
But if he does bring in top dollar, there are two things he needs to work on. One, he needs to start to increase his total number of tackles as the top linebackers in the league seem to record at least 100 a year on a consistent basis. The second item is that he needs to find a way to be on the field for all 16 games in a regular season.