EAGAN, Minn. — Eric Kendricks couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when recalling the moment he learned one of his best friends was staying in Purple.
And that was moments after Harrison Smith, one of the toughest players on the team, became choked up when talking about Anthony Barr’s decision during free agency.
Yes, Barr’s defensive teammates were both ecstatic and emotional Tuesday that the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker recently chose to continue his career with the Vikings.
“Yeah, he’s with us,” Kendricks said with that smile on his face. “It’s dope. So dope.”
Perhaps nobody is as close to Barr as Kendricks is, as the two were former college teammates at UCLA. Take away the 2014 season — when Barr was a rookie and Kendricks was flourishing with the Bruins — and the duo have played alongside each other since the 2011 season.
The linebackers, both California natives, were working out in Los Angeles last month when free agency began. And for a day or two, it looked as if Barr was heading to the New York Jets.
But when Barr had a change of heart, it felt as if Kendricks was kind of along for the ride.
“I was working out with him at the time. Every morning he’s on the phone going through it while we’re working out, but I tried to stay out of it as much as I could,” Kendricks recalled Tuesday morning from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. “I sent him a text when it started going down and I was just like, ‘Man, it’s going to be weird not playing with you.’
“Everyone was asking me if I’d thought about it yet … I’d thought about it, but I hadn’t really processed it at that time. Everybody was just kind of on me about it,” Kendricks added. “So I sent him a text … Hey, it’s going to be weird not playing with you … and he was like, ‘Hold on, wait a second.’ And I was like, ‘Oh.’ It kind of played out how it did, and I couldn’t be happier.”
A few moments before Kendricks recalled his story with glee, Smith had stepped to the podium to field questions.
When the topic came to Barr, the All-Pro safety became emotional when talking about his locker mate at the team facility.
“I was pretty pumped about it,” Smith began before looking around trying to control himself as his voice swelled with emotion. “A guy making a choice like that was pretty big. It doesn’t happen a lot in pro sports, even if it’s a couple million dollars, which means different things to different people. For him, it meant staying here.”
Smith was then asked why he, one of the more stoic players on the team, showed the emotion he did.
“I don’t really know. I didn’t think that would happen,” Smith said with a laugh. “He’s one of my best friends. Honestly, I wanted him to go get as much money as he could make. Pro sports, that’s how things happen.
“I obviously wanted him here as well, so I wasn’t going to be upset one way or the other. It’s an emotional game,” Smith added. “When you make friendships and you make plays together and you’re pumped for the guy next to you, that’s why I play.”
As the Vikings 2019 voluntary offseason program gets underway, the defense doesn’t have to worry about the absence of one of its leaders and the guy who relays plays to the huddle from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Kendricks is glad No. 55 will be next to him for the foreseeable future.
“It’s something that I have the luxury of not thinking about now,” Kendricks said. “I don’t know … it definitely crossed my mind a little bit. Me and him have been playing together for so long, it was hard to ignore.
“It definitely crossed my mind for him to have to restart, but for me to have to restart and get used to communicating with someone [else],” Kendricks added. “It was definitely weird to think about.”
Barr’s return means the core of a defense that has been together for five-plus years, and is among the league’s best, will stay together going forward.
The continuity that organizations crave is on full display with the Vikings defense, and Barr’s choice speaks to the culture inside the building where his teammates couldn’t contain themselves — with smiles and watery eyes — about his return.
“We just love playing with each other. We know what kind of group we have and we have each other’s backs,” Kendricks said. “I take trips with these guys in the offseason, and we just enjoy being together, working together, and we know what we’re all chasing.
“I feel like it says a lot about what we’ve got,” Kendricks added.