Barr turnaround part of crazy week in NFL free agency 

It's been one of the craziest free agency periods in NFL history.

Jeff Diamond
March 15, 2019 - 1:53 pm

© Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

By Jeff Diamond, former Vikings GM who hosted The Players Show with Mike Max and Harrison Smith (along with other Vikings players) this past season on WCCO Radio.

It's been one of the craziest free agency periods in NFL history and the Vikings have injected themselves into the mix with the bizarre saga of Anthony Barr.

There was the trade of superstar diva receiver Antonio Brown from the Steelers to the Raiders for the pittance of third and fifth round picks with Pittsburgh… taking a $21 million dead money hit to their salary cap--ouch!

Two days later the NFL landscape shook with the news of another superstar and the ultimate diva receiver in Odell Beckham being traded from the Giants to the Browns (and the G-Men take a $19.5 million cap hit on Beckham after making the mistake of giving him a $20 million signing bonus as part of his new contract last September and trading him six months later). At least the Giants received a first and third round pick from Cleveland plus a starting safety in Jabrill Peppers. 

For a couple hours in between those two mega-trades, Barr's contract stole the headlines after the Vikings' four-time Pro Bowl linebacker reneged on an agreed upon deal with the Jets for an estimated $14-15 million per year. Within 24 hours of the Jets deal being announced, Barr changed his mind and decided to return to the Vikings under a five year, $67.5 million contract ($13.5 million per year) with a reported $33 million in guaranteed money. 

It was a startling turnaround for the former first round pick who was long rumored to be headed to another team where he would be paid a higher amount than the Vikings could offer, and have more opportunities to rush the passer. From his initial season as head coach, Mike Zimmer had said all along that Barr was a priority for him and that he didn't want to lose the first draft pick.

It had to be a shock to the Jets to hear of Barr's change of heart. I'm grateful that I never had to deal with a contract situation such as this during my NFL GM years. I would have been furious with the player and the agent, but I think the NFL's two day legal tampering period encourages such a scenario to possibly unfold with the length of time between negotiations and actual signing. 

The Vikings hope that Barr will elevate his play even further under this new contract and increase his big play impact with more sacks and turnovers created (he has only 13.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception over his first five seasons, along with an average of 68 tackles per year). 

The Barr contract agreement followed a busy start to the free agency period for Vikings GM Rick Spielman, in which salary cap room was created with the releases of starting guard Mike Remmers and former starting safety Andrew Sendejo. Then defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson accepted a lucrative contract from Cleveland, and backup running back Latavius Murray departed for New Orleans (which could bring a third or fourth round compensatory pick for Richardson in the 2020 draft and a late rounder for Murray). Spielman did reach agreement with former Viking Shamar Stephen to return at defensive tackle to help replace Richardson. 

The prevailing thought was that with their roster cuts, the Vikings were clearing salary cap room to go after some free agent help on the offensive line, but after the Barr signing, more cap room would have to be created by addressing Everson Griffen's contract before Minnesota could sign any O-linemen. 

But don't panic, Vikings fans. We've just witnessed the expensive first wave of free agency with the big bucks deals and there are plenty of good players left to be signed in the coming weeks. The Patriots have been experts at waiting for the better value free agents after the initial flurry of activity and with three Super Bowl titles in the last five years, that strategy has worked out fine for them. 

Expect to see the Vikings sign a couple of free agent offensive linemen in the coming weeks. And the April 25-27 draft will clearly be another vehicle for adding quality players to the team's weakest position in order to better protect Kirk Cousins and open more holes for Dalvin Cook (and whoever the team  signs to replace Murray) in the running game.

Packers and Lions loading up in free agency:

As if there was any more motivation needed to bolster the Vikings offensive line, it was accentuated by major signings of top pass rushers within the NFC North. Detroit added one of the best pass rushers available in free agency with the addition of Trey Flowers, previously New England's top sacker (but they may have overpaid at $18 million per year). Green Bay is signing outside linebackers/edge rushers Za'Darius Smith (8.5 sacks last season for Baltimore) and Preston Smith (24.5 sacks over four seasons in Washington). 

The Lions also are signing three other free agents who should help them improve in wide receiver Danny Amendola, cornerback Justin Coleman and tight end Jesse James.  

The Packers’ other free agent signings include safety Adrian Amos (from Chicago, thus taking a starter from the Bears) and guard/tackle Billy Turner, a Minneapolis native who played for Denver the past three seasons.

The Bears, like the Vikings, do not have much salary cap room but they added a playmaker familiar to Minnesota fans in Cordarrelle Patterson, a former No. 1 pick of the Vikings who played well for the Patriots last season as a returner, receiver and rusher. 

Stay tuned--there's lots more action ahead in NFL free agency followed by next month's draft.

Jeff Diamond was the NFL Executive of the Year in 1998 after the Vikings' 15-1 season. He also is former president of the Tennessee Titans. He does sports/business consulting, media and speaking work including corporate and college speaking on Negotiation, Management, Leadership and Sports Business--contact him at diamondj4@comcast.net