The Minnesota Vikings begin this offseason around $12 million over the salary cap, meaning they will likely have to make some difficult decisions about veteran players with lower guarantees in their contracts.
One of the more surprising names that has been floated as a potential cut candidate is veteran linebacker Anthony Barr. He has drawn the ire of many Vikings fans for not making as many splash plays as they would expect for a player who is due $15 million next season — $7.8 of which will count against the cap if he is released.
Eric Wilson took over Barr’s duties in Week 2 when Barr tore his pectoral and created turnovers in crucial moments. Wilson is in the final year of his contract and likely has earned himself some money. At this point, many fans would like to keep him, even if it means releasing Barr.
Despite Wilson filling in admirably for Barr this season, he isn’t a one-for-one replacement for Barr.
Last year Wilson made the splash plays Barr didn’t make when he was healthy. Throughout the season, Wilson earned the “walking turnover” moniker after recording three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He was one of the few players who created turnovers in a season where the Vikings desperately needed them.
The turnovers he created were crucial, but Wilson struggled when he couldn’t make them. He was dismal when facing the run and, at times, a flat-out liability. He missed 20 tackles, fourth-most in the NFL, and earned a 38.3 run-defense grade from PFF. For reference, Dakota Dozier had a 36.7 grade in pass protection.
In 2019 Barr earned a 62.8 PFF grade when facing the run. Sure, Barr had the benefit of a proper nose tackle in Linval Joseph standing in front of him, eating up blocks and allowing Barr to get to the ball carrier. But Barr made the most of these opportunities, missing just four tackles in all 16 regular-season games.
People who champion Wilson will point to him being a coverage linebacker who excels at playing the pass. While he is better than Barr in coverage, it isn’t by as much as you would expect. Wilson recorded a coverage grade of 65.5 this season, but Barr had a 59.1 grade two years ago.
Vikings fans who consider Barr inferior in coverage are mostly haunted by the memory of him getting isolated on Cooper Kupp and having to cover him down the field two years ago. But it’s hard to fault Barr there: Sean McVay schemed Kupp onto Barr, an obvious mismatch.
Barr’s importance to the Vikings goes beyond his play. He is the green dot when he’s on the field, communicating the plays that Zimmer calls to the rest of the defense. The defense had an evident adjustment period when he was out, miscommunicating with the sideline.
While Barr’s cap hit of $15 million is probably too steep to bring him back, he shouldn’t be a cap casualty just to re-sign Wilson. Instead, the Vikings should look to renegotiate his deal using the unguaranteed money as leverage to lower his cap hit for the upcoming seasons.