Nearly five years ago and just four months into Mike Zimmer’s role as Minnesota’s head coach, the Vikings drafted linebacker Anthony Barr out of UCLA.
And with the 2019 NFL Draft just around the corner, Zimmer is thrilled that Barr is staying with the team that originally selected him ninth overall in 2014.
Zimmer, along with others, anticipated that Barr likely would be a casualty of free agency this spring – and he nearly was. The 27-year-old initially had a verbal commitment with the Jets but quickly realized that he needed to “follow his heart” and decided instead to return to Minnesota.
Zimmer spoke to media members while at the NFL’s Annual League Meetings in Phoenix, Arizona, and reflected candidly on Barr remaining with the team.
“It was really good,” he said of Barr’s decision to say. “It was kind of like, ‘Wow, we kept one of our good guys’ and kind of refreshing. It was exciting.”
When asked about the process leading up to re-signing one of their top defenders, Zimmer explained that the Vikings had assured Barr they wanted him and would “try to work something out,” but the head coach still understood Barr testing the waters of free agency.
“We knew he was going to get more than we could pay him,” Zimmer said. “So it just shows his loyalty, what he thinks about ownership and the team and the organization. It’s very rare that guys do that.”
Barr said during his March 14 press conference that he considers the Vikings his family. He referred to Zimmer as “my guy,” emphasizing that the coach who believed in him from day one is a “big reason” he’ll be staying in Minnesota.
Zimmer reflected on first watching Barr’s film, foreseeing the ways he could be implemented into a defense and talking to Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman about the young athlete.
“Rick came and asked me, ‘If we drafted this guy, how would you use him?’ And I kind of explained to him what my vision of him was,” Zimmer said, “Then, like the day before the draft, he came to me and said, ‘Are you OK drafting Anthony?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I think we can use him a lot of different ways.’
Since joining the Vikings, Barr has proven just that. Not only has he made a significant impact on the field, however; Barr also has become a leader in the Vikings locker room.
While he and Zimmer have both mentioned that they share a similar communication style – they are men of few words – it hasn’t limited Barr in his ability to lead.
“Anthony is not the most talkative guy in the world, and I’m not the most talkative, either, so we have a different relationship, I guess,” Zimmer said.
“He’s not that type of outward, vocal leader,” Zimmer added. “He’s not afraid to say anything, but he’s more of a quiet leader by example.”
Soft-spoken as he may be, Barr’s play does the talking come game day, and Zimmer is excited to continue coaching a special player – his very first draft pick – in 2019.
“Anthony is brilliant. I mean, he is _brilliant _as far as understanding the defense,” Zimmer said.