EAGAN, Minn. — Anthony Barr decided to follow his heart.
The Vikings and the Pro Bowl linebacker agreed to terms earlier this week on a new contract that will keep Barr with the team that drafted him for the foreseeable future.
In the end, despite an emotional experience in free agency, Minnesota is where Barr wanted to be all along.
“I just followed my heart,” Barr said Thursday. “I did what I wanted to do at the end of the day, and I am happy with it.
“I feel so much better than I did 48 or 72 hours ago,” Barr added.
Barr was scheduled to be a free agent Wednesday, meaning his agent could begin negotiating with other teams Monday.
While the linebacker initially was looking forward to the chance for teams to court him, the process quickly turned into a stressful few days for the ninth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Barr said Thursday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center that he had second thoughts soon after informing his agent that he would take a deal with the New York Jets.
“Monday, I thought Monday was going to be a fun day. Monday was one of the worst days of my life, really, trying to figure everything out,” said Barr, who revealed he slept from 1-3 a.m. in the early hours of Tuesday morning. “On the phone all day with my agent, my mom. Just going back and forth calling friends, teammates. It was a crazy day.
“I don’t like talking on the phone, I feel like it was a lot of drama,” Barr later added. “I’m not really into all that. I had to make a life choice. This was my life. It was a big decision.”
In the end, the linebacker who has made four straight Pro Bowls in Purple said he was simply trying to convince his mind of something his heart didn’t agree with.
How could he leave the team that drafted him? How could he leave teammates and friends such as Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith and Everson Griffen?
He couldn’t, which is why Barr will continue to make calls and checks for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s defense going forward.
“Yes, I mean I want to win and not to say that other teams and other organizations aren’t going to be successful. We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs here, too,” Barr said. “But I want to continue to build on what we have, and I feel like we do have a real chance to win. We have a really good team.
“Money is great, but you can’t be miserable coming into to work every day. It’s miserable when you’re not winning. We’ve been through that situation where we lost [seven of nine games] in 2016. I was afraid to come to work because it was not going to be fun. I am not saying that is the environment elsewhere, but I don’t know what it is like,” Barr added. “I know what it is like here, and I know even those times it would suck, we were going to grind through it and make it better. I knew I could trust the people in there.”
That includes Zimmer and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, who are among the people that are elated Barr is coming back.
“You know, he had opportunities to go all kinds of places, and I think it makes you feel good that he wants to come back to an organization like we have and the coaches and be around the guys that are in our locker room … Eric Kendricks, Danielle [Hunter], [Harrison Smith] and all those guys,” Zimmer said. “The more that we can keep this group together … I think is a good thing for us, for this franchise, for this organization, for this defense.”
Added Spielman: “It’s very exciting when you’re able to get an Anthony Barr back. It’s also what makes this profession so unique, because the highs are the highs and the lows are the lows. There’s no between or in the middle of anything, so you roll with it, and we were fortunate that we ended up on a very high note.”
Barr, who will turn 27 years old on Monday, has made 71 starts in his five seasons in Minnesota. He has 309 total tackles (according to team stats) with 31 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, one interception, seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in his career in Purple.
Zimmer noted that Barr “is a guy that every team we play game-plans for.”
“There’s not one team, maybe, there might have been one team last year that didn’t, and we got 10 sacks,” Zimmer said in reference to a game last fall against Detroit in which Minnesota set a franchise record. “So they all game-plan for him.
“A lot of that is him sacrificing himself for being able to have other guys be able to be free on rushes and blitzes and things like that, and that’s why he’s such an unselfish guy,” Zimmer added. “We understand that no team that we play is ever going to say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to worry about Anthony Barr.’ So that’s part of it. And sometimes we do it anyway, and that’s just part of it. We’re always going to try to scheme the best way to win on that particular Sunday.”
In addition to being a vital piece of a defense that has ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per game in four of the past five seasons, Barr is also a fixture in the Twin Cities community.
Barr constantly gives his time, effort and financial help to The Jeremiah Program, which helps provide financial assistance for higher education and childcare to single mothers.
Barr, who was raised by a single mother, routinely pops into the program’s facility on his off days to spend time with children of single moms. The drive to help single-parent families prompted Barr to establish his Raise the Barr Foundation.
The linebacker said Thursday that he kept his constant contact with his mom and his family throughout the entire free agency process.
All the while, he also kept his Vikings family in his heart.
“I feel so good. I am elated, top of the world,” Barr said. “Money is cool, but it comes and goes. It is not going to make me happy. I have money and I am happy with that. I was happy without money.
“The people you surround yourself with, the environment that you are in, it plays a big part,” Barr added. “I am a big family guy. I love my family. And these guys are my extended family, so I want to keep going with these guys.”