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What’s wrong with Anthony Barr? Vikings aren’t saying but Mike Zimmer admits to some concern

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Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr (55) participates at NFL football training camp Friday, July 30, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

What’s wrong with Anthony Barr?

That remains a mystery. But what is no longer in question is coach Mike Zimmer’s concern when it comes to his veteran linebacker. The Vikings coach confirmed as much on Saturday night after Barr was one of several veterans who sat out a loss against the Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. That continued the trend of Barr watching practices and games from the sidelines in recent weeks.

“He’s not a concern as a football player,” Zimmer said. “He’s a concern maybe a little bit with his health. So we’re taking that with real kid gloves, but we miss him out there. We can do so many different things with him that allows the rest of the guys. … Plus, he does a great job communicating to everybody. We’re just being cautious with him.”

Barr spent last week presumably getting treatment inside the TCO Performance Center during practice before emerging to watch the remainder of the session from the sideline. The Vikings aren’t obligated to disclose what’s wrong with Barr until the first injury report is issued the Wednesday before the regular-season opener on Sept. 12 in Cincinnati.

One assumption has been that the Vikings might be bringing him along slowly after he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in Week 2 last year against the Colts. But Zimmer said Saturday that Barr isn’t dealing with a problem involving his pectoral muscle.

Barr was the first first-round pick made by the Vikings after the defensive-minded Zimmer took over in 2014 and the two have been together ever since. Barr was ready to sign as a free agent with the New York Jets in 2019 but decided to return to the Vikings at the last minute. Barr then took a pay cut from $12.9 million to $10 million last offseason so he could remain with Minnesota. That agreement gives Barr the ability to become a free agent in March.

That makes it imperative that the 29-year-old Barr is able to stay on the field this season and prove his value to the Vikings and the rest of the NFL. While Barr hasn’t lived up to the expectations that many of us set for him, Zimmer always has valued his presence and versatility at the strong-side linebacker position.

The Vikings have one of the NFL’s top middle linebackers in Eric Kendricks and plan to start veteran free agent addition Nick Vigil on the weakside. Vigil would be the linebacker who departs when cornerback Mackensie Alexander is brought in to play in the nickel defense. That, of course, assumes everyone is healthy.

If Barr’s situation continues to be an issue, the Vikings will have to hope they have enough depth at linebacker to replace him, or they will need to look to the waiver wire. Eric Wilson helped to replace Barr last season, but he signed with the Eagles as a free agent in April.

Blake Lynch, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020, was the first to play alongside Kendricks and Vigil on Saturday. Troy Dye had the biggest play by a Vikings linebacker, when he intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Lynch and Dye are listed as second-team members on Vikings’ depth chart. The linebackers behind them include Ryan Connelly, Tuf Borland, Chazz Surratt and Christian Elliss. Cam Smith was in the second-team mix before he retired last week.

The Vikings would prefer their backup linebackers play on special teams and aren’t forced to again step in for Barr. But until Barr is able to stay on the field, his situation will remain a concern.

  • Wide receiver Warren Jackson and cornerback Dylan Mabin were placed on waivers Sunday as the Vikings began the process of trimming their roster from 85 to 80 players by 3 p.m. Tuesday. Jackson was signed by the Vikings this month to add depth. Mabin was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Raiders in 2019 and was then signed to the Vikings’ practice squad last November.