On Monday the Minnesota Vikings locked in one of the key players to their No. 1 ranked defense in linebacker Eric Kendricks. The 2015 second-round pick received a deal worth $50 million over five years with $25 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Next up for an extension could be Kendricks’ partner in the linebacking corps Anthony Barr, who is in the final year of his deal.
Barr and Kendricks are a duo the Vikings likely want to keep together. Since joining forces in 2015, the Vikings’ defense has ranked fifth, sixth and first in points allowed. Last season, Kendricks and Barr played a major role in the Vikings holding opposing running backs to the fewest receiving yards per game of any team in the NFL – which is no small feat considering they played Alvin Kamara, Le’Veon Bell, Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson, Todd Gurley and Christian McCaffrey.
Both former UCLA Bruins standouts ranked closely by Pro Football Focus’s grading system, ending the 2017 season as the 37th (Kendricks) and 43rd (Barr) rated linebackers in the NFL.
Kendricks’ play has been more consistent over the past two seasons, but Barr had a bounce-back year from 2016, flashing his playmaking skills that were on display in 2015. Barr produced his highest total of stuffed runs last season with eight, resulting in 22 yards lost by opponents. Kendricks stuffed seven runs for 15 yards lost.
Overall there are nuanced differences. Kendricks is better fit to cover fast running backs and tight ends, Barr has more potential as a pass rusher, but they have similar standing in Mike Zimmer’s defense. It would make sense for the Vikings to offer Barr a comparable contract.
There is precedent for a pair of LBs to ink nearly the same contract. The Los Angeles Rams signed Alex Ogletree and Mark Barron to contracts worth $10.5 and $9 million annually with $18.9 million and $15 million guaranteed, respectively. Carolina pays Luke Keuchly $12.3 million and Thomas Davis $6.7 million.
The argument against signing Barr to an expensive deal is that linebacker is not a position many teams spend huge dollars on unless that LB is bringing double-digit sacks to the table. The Rams ultimately traded Ogletree to the Giants to make room for other free agents.
Kendricks’ deal makes for only 11 linebackers who make more than $5 million per year. With the signing of Kirk Cousins to an $84 million contract and two other key players to sign long term (Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter) the Vikings will have to be diligent in how they divvy up cap space. If Barr believes he is worth more than Kendricks, it could make re-signing him challenging.
Still the linebackers in Zimmer’s system carry a lot of weight. Kendricks played 97 percent of snaps and Barr played 92 last season.
Barr’s earning potential gets a head start this season while he plays on his fifth-year option, worth $12.3 million.