The deadline for all 32 to teams to make a decision with the franchise or transition tag is March 5 at 4 p.m. ET.
That gives the Vikings two weeks to decide on Barr’s future in Minnesota. There has been no indication that the team that drafted him in the first round in 2014 will be the one he’s playing for in 2019.
Last offseason came and went without Barr signing an extension. Months before training camp, the writing was on the wall that both parties weren’t in agreement on a new deal. That led to Barr skipping a week of voluntary OTAs in May while he took out an insurance policy on himself.
Barr last month foreshadowed that his days in Minnesota could be numbered.
"I’ve been thinking about it," Barr said at the Pro Bowl. "It’s been a whole year, two years really, coming, so ... my contract was up last year, had the option, and this year now it’s really up so the possibilities I feel like are endless and I could be anywhere. I want to be back, like I’ve said throughout the last year. But like I’ve been saying also I know my worth and I know what I got to do. I’ve got to do it for me."
The decision to tag Barr comes with a high price tag -- Over the Cap estimates the franchise tender for a linebacker to be $15.7 million -- but letting him hit the market as a free agent could be costly as well.
Here’s a look at the benefit and consequences of tagging him.
The benefit of tagging Barr: A nagging hamstring injury limited Barr to 13 games in 2018 -- the fewest since his rookie season -- and he had three sacks and a career-low 55 tackles. Coach Mike Zimmer said Barr was playing at "another level" when he returned in Week 12 and called his level of play "outstanding," especially after the first multisack game of his career against Miami. Placing the franchise tag on Barr with the prospect of working out a long-term deal keeps one of the foundational pieces of Zimmer’s defense in place for 2019 and possibly longer. Allowing Barr to be more of a pass-rusher proved beneficial for the Vikings last season and could be something they expand upon. Barr’s intelligence and versatility allows Minnesota to do more on defense. His ability to communicate with the defensive line and other linebackers when the defense has to make a last-second shift based on what the offense might do is not easily replaced by another player. The Vikings also have the option of tagging Barr with the intention of trading him. That would remove a key player in the defense, but it could benefit other areas of the roster that need to be addressed in free agency and the draft.
The consequences of tagging Barr: The Vikings are already up against the cap and will have to do some careful navigating to free up space elsewhere, possibly with the release of Everson Griffen, Mike Remmers, Andrew Sendejo and restructuring the contract of Kyle Rudolph. Still, the price to keep Barr at the estimated $15.7 million would make him the highest paid non-QB on the roster. If we’re talking about the 2015 version of Barr who was able to rush the passer like a defensive end and cover the back end like a safety, that’s one thing. But Barr hasn't returned to that form despite being named to four straight Pro Bowls. Barr is a fantastic blitzer, but his skills in coverage have been inconsistent. Tagging Barr likely would mean the Vikings have to sacrifice elsewhere, such as not having the resources to pay defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who will become a free agent in March.
Likely outcome: Given the Vikings' history with the franchise tag (the last time it happened was ahead of the 2011 season when Minnesota franchised linebacker Chad Greenway) and the financial restrictions already in place with the salary cap, their most realistic option likely is to let Barr walk in free agency. The Vikings have far more pressing areas to consider spending on than linebacker, with the possibility that they could eventually draft Barr’s replacement.
For Barr, the benefit comes in being able to find a team that will allow him to be a 3-4 outside linebacker like he was at UCLA where he racked up 23.5 sacks in two seasons. Betting on himself in that case could also yield a sizable pay increase if he’s looking to command somewhere in the $13-15 million per year range on a long-term deal. Barr has repeatedly said he’s better at going forward than backward. That’s a role that comes with a caveat -- he'll have to constantly go up against tackles, but likely with a bigger payday.