Anthony Barr’s offseason to date has included a combination of physical training and mental reflection.
The ninth overall pick of the 2014 draft is likely to have the Minnesota Vikings exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would pay him handsomely. As a linebacker selected in the first 10 picks, the fifth-year option would pay Barr about $12.3 million in 2018.
That’s certainly a hefty price, but Barr has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowl player in Mike Zimmer’s defense. However, Zimmer was also frustrated – or at least saw some missed potential – in Barr’s performance at times last year.
“Anthony sometimes has a tendency to coast a little bit,” Zimmer said last year. “I think when he cuts it loose a little bit more, because that’s when you see him making the explosive plays, the kind of wow plays.”
As a rookie in 2014, Barr played in 12 games and had 99 tackles, four sacks, 13 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered. In 2015, he played in 14 games and had 80 tackles, 3½ sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. So, more games but a drop in production and those splash plays.
Last year, he started all 16 games and finished with 91 tackles, two sacks, 20 quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
After the season, Barr said on Tuesday, he spent a “whole bunch” of time reflecting on his development.
“I spent a lot of time with myself trying to figure things out in regards to what I need to do and what I need to be better at. It’s a long list,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you those, but it’s definitely where I have a lot to work on.”
Having him available for all 16 games in 2016 was a plus, but Barr’s production doesn’t always seem to live up to the level of athleticism he possesses. At least that’s what Zimmer’s statement from last year seems to infer.
“A lot of ups and downs. I think I’ll be better from it,” Barr said when asked to assess his play last season. “I don’t see myself going through those times again. I’m working very hard with my coaches and my teammates and I’m looking forward to getting back on the field.
“It’s a lot of things. It’s not to pin it on one thing and say this is the reason for not playing well or whatever it was, but I’m in a better place mentally, physically, and I’m just looking forward to getting back out there.”
All that being the case, Barr still is a respected player. He ended up in the Pro Bowl after the 2015 and 2016 seasons, but the key for improvement might be finishing plays.
He had a career-high 20 quarterback hurries in 2016 but a career-low two sacks.
He also will presumably have to take on more of a leadership role in the linebacker corps with veteran Chad Greenway retiring.
Although Barr only has three years of experience, the starters are expected to consist of him, Eric Kendricks, who came to the NFL a year after Barr, and a player to be decided later ( Emmanuel Lamur and Edmond Robinson among them) that likely won’t have the starting experience of either of them.
“Definitely a little more responsibility comes with it,” he said when referencing Greenway’s retirement. “Try to be a little more vocal, continue to lead by example and just try to do the right thing and helping guys along the way. Whatever they need, I’m more than willing to do that.”
He isn’t vocal by nature, but the longer he is in the league and in Zimmer’s system, the more that more knowledge he has to impart on teammates.
“I think I know a lot more obviously,” he said on how he’s changed since he was drafted. “It feels at home. I think, player-wise, I’ve developed a lot. I still have a lot to improve on and will continue to do that this offseason.”