Anthony Barr slept for a mere two hours on Monday night, awakened at 3 a.m. by the angst of his decision about which team to pick in free agency.
His verbal commitment to join the New York Jets triggered immediate unease about leaving the Minnesota Vikings.
“I was up all morning just looking at my ceiling, just looking for a sign, talking to everybody, just trying to figure something out,” Barr said.
Fortunately for Barr and his conscience, the Vikings didn’t abandon their desire to retain the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker. They presented a contract offer that was more than sufficient to stay for, even if he’d be turning down a richer deal with the Jets. The league’s two-day negotiating window before contracts can be signed worked out rather well for him.
Barr got a five-year deal valued at $67.5 million, with $33 million in guaranteed money. The Vikings held a news conference for him and new defensive tackle Shamar Stephen on Thursday afternoon.
“This is where I wanted to be. This is my home. I’m embedded in the community. I do a lot of off-the-field work here. I love my teammates. I love this locker room. The culture we’ve developed over the last five years, it’s been awesome. The bonds I’ve made with my friends, my teammates and my coaches are unbreakable, and it just felt right,” Barr said. “This is where my heart was.”
Barr, who will turn 27 next week, was the first draft pick, ninth overall in 2014, the Vikings made under coach Mike Zimmer. Though the hard-nosed boss has occasionally prodded Barr to play with more relentlessness, Zimmer has become a big fan of the 6-foot-5, 255-pound player who has manned the strong side linebacker spot on one of the NFL’s best defenses over the last five seasons.
“No team we ever play is going to say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to worry about Anthony Barr,'” Zimmer said.
Zimmer played a part in the persuasion process. General manager Rick Spielman held onto some hope.
“You might as well keep swinging until you’re knocked out,” Spielman said.
Barr figured his first foray into free agency would be fun, but he wound up feeling the opposite.
“Monday was one of the worst days of my life, really,” he said.
As soon as he told his agent, Brian Murphy, he would take the offer from the Jets, Barr called his mother, Lori, and fessed up.
“I’m like, ‘I think I made a mistake.’ And she was like, ‘Well, you’ve got to fix it,’ and I was like, ‘All right,'” Barr said.
Murphy handled the business part, but Barr was left the bigger mess: his emotions.
“I was crying, laughing, sweating. The whole day was just crazy,” he said.
The enticement of the Jets wasn’t just more money. There was an allure too, Barr said, of being part of a rebuild.
“All the respect to the Jets organization, their coaching staff, but it’s just not what I really wanted,” he said. “I think initially I kind of jumped the gun, even though it was like a full day worth of conversation. I think I was trying to convince myself of something.”
Now Barr will be back with a coach he said he’d “go to war for” and an organization from the top down of people he can trust.
“We do have a really good team,” Barr said. “Money’s great, but you can’t be miserable coming in to work every day.”
The Vikings took one of the smallest amounts of salary cap space in the league into 2019, with about $5 million at the start of the week before the roster moves began. The Vikings sought a pay reduction from defensive end Everson Griffen, Spielman said, who agreed to a restructured deal that gave the team roughly $4 million in more room. Griffen, who has the same agent as Barr, could have been cut had he resisted the request.
“It was down to the wire,” Spielman said.