Anthony Barr signed with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday, marking the end of an era in Minnesota. He was the last player from Mike Zimmer’s first year as head coach in 2014 to leave the team. It’s a final sendoff to Zimmer and Rick Spielman’s reign.
Barr signed a one-year deal worth up to $3 million with the Cowboys, a team that’s fond of former Minnesota Vikings defenders lately. In the recent past, they’ve signed Everson Griffen and Jayron Kearse. Barr is in a good position to have a bounce-back season so long as he plays a smaller role in Dallas than in Minnesota.
Barr is as good of a fit as any in Dan Quinn’s defense. Quinn brought out the best in Vic Beasley and Keanu Neal, two very athletic players who fit a hybrid role like Barr. But Barr’s departure represents something more significant for the Vikings: the end of the 2014 draft era. It’s a draft that I think is an underrated one in Minnesota.
The 2015 draft gets talked about much more, and for good reason. In 2015, Minnesota drafted three All-Pros and two quality starters. But 2014 was significant for other factors. It was the start of a new regime, much like this season. The draft was also supposed to help the team transition from a declining Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings had two first-round picks in 2014. That ended up being Barr and Teddy Bridgewater. I remember this distinctly because 2014 was one of the first Vikings drafts I was fully invested in. I was engrossed in the rumors of the Vikings taking a QB. It was either Johnny Manziel or Bridgewater. To my surprise, they took Barr with the ninth-overall pick, leaving future Montreal Alouettes QB Johnny Football on the board.
Looking back, you could argue that the Vikings drafted Barr too early, but he was a splash player that Zimmer needed for his defense. I like looking back at this pick because it was really the start of Zimmer’s defense. The Vikings went from the 24th-ranked unit in 2013 to the second-ranked defense in 2014, per PFF. That steep rise encapsulates Zimmer’s career in Minnesota – at least most of it.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings drafted Bridgewater at No. 32. It’s impressive to potentially get the franchise QB and pass-rusher in a single draft. For some time, it looked like the Vikings did just that. The front office and coaching staff loved Bridgewater, particularly Zimmer. He always had Bridgewater’s back and even threatened to fight another coach over a dirty hit.
It’s worth mentioning that the Vikings also drafted Jerrick McKinnon in 2014. He is still in the league and earned a hefty contract with the San Francisco 49ers after leaving Minnesota. They also drafted Antone Exum Jr. and Shamar Stephen, both role players on defense. Exum puts out great music under the name EXUM now. I fully recommend giving it a listen.
The Vikings were using the 2014 draft to build a new foundation and pass the torch from Peterson to new hands. Whether it was Bridgwater, McKinnon, Barr, or just Zimmer’s defense (ding ding ding!), it was the start the new regime needed. That’s why it’s a draft worth looking back to. The team was in a similar spot to where they are right now.
Obviously, it wasn’t a perfect draft, and the team didn’t easily replace Peterson. Like many of the Vikings drafts around this time, Spielman focused on gathering late-round picks. They ended up having two sixth-rounders and three sevenths. It’s just too bad that injuries plagued that draft class. Had the two first-rounders and even McKinnon panned out, they’d all still likely be playing at a high level.
The 2014 draft gave way to what was possibly the best draft in Vikings history in 2015. But without the building blocks of 2014, the 2015 draft wouldn’t have been the same. I look back fondly on the start of the Zimmer era, and it’s too bad it had to end the way it did.