EAGAN, Minn. -- Late in the first quarter in Week 2 last season at Indianapolis, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr came up wincing in pain after helping tackle Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. He didn’t want that to be his swan song with the team.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection missed the remainder of the year with a torn right pectoral muscle. And after the season he agreed to take a pay cut to stay with the Vikings rather than be released and test free agency.
“I kind of didn’t want to go out like that,” Barr told reporters Wednesday, May 26, in his first interview since before the injury. “I didn’t want my last game being the one in which I got hurt and then missing an entire year. I didn’t want that to be my last memory as a Minnesota Viking, so that played a big factor in returning and taking the pay cut to be back.”
Barr, 29, agreed to have his $12.9 million salary reduced to $10 million for the 2021 season, but also had his request granted that the last two years of his contract be voided, enabling him to become a free agent next March. After undergoing shoulder surgery shortly after the Sept. 20, 2020 game at Indianapolis, Barr was back at practice for the first time at Monday’s start of organized team activities at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
“Last year was tough for a number of reasons,” Barr said after the team’s third OTA practice on Wednesday. “Obviously missed playing, missed being with the guys, but I think it was a year of learning and reflection, and I’m looking forward to this next year. I think we have some high expectations and high hopes, and we’ve got kind of a fresh start.”
Barr, Mike Zimmer’s first draft pick as Vikings coach when he was selected No. 9 in 2014, made four straight Pro Bowls from 2015-18. His absence from the lineup last season was one reason the Vikings slipped to 29th in the NFL in scoring defense and 27th in total defense.
The Vikings also went the entire season without two other key defensive stars — two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, who had neck surgery, and nose tackle Michael Pierce, who opted out due to the coronavirus pandemic. On top of all that, 2019 all-pro linebacker Eric Kendricks missed the final five games with a calf injury. After a 52-33 loss at New Orleans in the next-to-last game, Zimmer called it the “worst” defense he’s ever had.
“He probably felt embarrassed, given the performance, but everybody did,” Barr said.
All Barr could do was watch that game on television after his early-season injury.
“I never had torn a pec before or anything like that, but I kind of knew what that feeling was,” he said. “I kind of told (athletic) trainer (Eric Sugarman) what I thought happened, and it proved to be true. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game.”
Away from the game
During his time away, Barr focused on life outside of football. Barr, who was outspoken following the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd by since-convicted Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, followed social justice issues closely and also was influenced by the pandemic.
“I just learned what my priorities are in life. … It was isolation,” said Barr, who said he now spends most of his time in Minnesota after spending previous offseasons in his hometown of Los Angeles. “I wasn’t allowed to attend meetings. I wasn’t allowed to attend games. I came in, did my rehab and went home. That was kind of the extent of my day for six months. I’m used to being in the locker room and on the field, joking with people and messing around.
“It was difficult, given that and the state of the world, with the senseless killings of unarmed Black people to the coronavirus and just the isolation. I think all of that kind of took its toll. But I was able to reflect and realize I’m very blessed and still very fortunate to be in this situation I am, and to take advantage of the time because it is precious — and it is fleeting.”
For now, the Vikings are glad to have Barr back. Running back Dalvin Cook talked Wednesday about how it helped that the linebacker never got discouraged following his injury and kept a “positive mindset.”
When Barr agreed to return to the Vikings in March, former linebacker Chad Greenway, his teammate from 2014-16, expressed a hope that he will be “a Viking for life.” That remains to be seen, but Barr had no doubts about at least wanting to be back for 2021.
“(The injury) would be a pretty sour note to end on, and with all the great memories I have, I think that one would be the most lasting,” he said. “So, I tried to put that in the back seat and move forward and look forward to a healthier and productive season.”