A behind-the-scenes look at Anthony Barr’s decision to stay in Minnesota
EAGAN, Minn. -- Maybe it was the thought of not playing with his best friend. Maybe it was the fact that his best friend left millions on the table. Maybe it was simply the weight of the moment.
Whatever it was, the usually stoic Harrison Smith nearly lost it Tuesday, April 16, when asked about Anthony Barr.
Perhaps the most stone-faced player in the locker room — and that’s saying something with this bunch — Smith choked back tears when reflecting on how Barr spurned the New York Jets this offseason to sign a long-term contract with the Vikings.
“A guy making a choice like that, it was pretty big,” Smith said, pausing for a few seconds to compose himself. “It doesn’t happen a lot in pro sports.”
Why so emotional?
“I don’t know,” Smith said, cracking a smile. “Like, I didn’t think that would happen.”
Yet there Smith was in front of a room full of reporters, nearly crying over his locker mate, overjoyed to be playing with Barr for the foreseeable future.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Smith said. “Honestly, I wanted him to go get as much money as he could make. It’s how things happen (in pro sports). I obviously wanted him here, as well. I wasn’t going to be upset one way or the other.”
That type of reaction shows just how close-knit the Vikings have grown under coach Mike Zimmer. The culture is the biggest reason Barr, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, decided to come back.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Barr said last month. “The bonds I’ve made with my friends, my teammates and my coaches are unbreakable. It just felt right. This is where my heart was. This is where it’s always been. This is where it always will be.”
Still, when the news about Barr and the Jets started to break on Twitter at the beginning of free agency, everyone, including some of his closest teammates, thought he was gone. Fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks was literally in Los Angeles working out with Barr in the days leading up to free agency, and even he had no idea what was going on.
“I tried to stay out of it as much as I could,” said Kendricks, who has known Barr since their playing days at UCLA. “I think I sent him a text as it was going down like, ‘Man. It’s going to be weird not playing together.’”
Not long after Kendricks sent that initial text, Barr fired back with a text of his own.
“He was like, ‘Just wait a second,’” Kendricks recalled with a smile. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I see.’ Everything kind of played out how it did, and I couldn’t be happier. He’s back with us. It’s so dope.”
“I wanted to see him get that big payday,” Kendricks added. “I wanted to see him get what he’s earned. For him to take a step back and realize what truly makes him happy is huge. That shows a lot about him, our team and the kind of guys we’ve got.”
While he left millions on the table, Barr still cashed out in the end, signing a five-year, $67.5 million contract that includes $33 million guaranteed and could be worth as much as $77.5 million with incentives.
“Even if it’s a couple million dollars, it means different things to different people,” Smith said. “For him, it meant staying here.”
What would the Vikings have lost if Barr opted to take his talents elsewhere?
“I don’t know,” Kendricks said. “It’s something we have the luxury of not having to think about now.”