How will Anthony Barr fit into the 2022 Dallas Cowboys defense

After occasional whispers of common interests continued throughout much of the holiday, the Cowboys signed veteran linebacker Anthony Barr for a one-year deal worth up to $3 million on Wednesday. The signing came just hours after the Cowboys wrapped up their mock (read: walkthrough) game of the daily portion of bootcamp.

The Barr-to-the-Cowboys have been in and out for a while now, you understandably be excited about the addition. Barr has been a very productive player in Mike Zimmer’s defenses in Minnesota for the past eight years, which have included four consecutive years. Pro Bowl From 2015 to 2018.

Let me be the joy killer for a moment, because Barr is no longer that kind of player. While Barr certainly won’t be the first player to turn back the clocks after a scene change, it seems unlikely that Barr will ever become an influential player in the Cowboys, and fan expectations should be tempered as such.

Barr’s Pro Bowls streak ended in the 2019 season, the year he almost didn’t play for the Vikings. That’s because Barr has in principle agreed to a massive deal with the Jets at free agency, in which Barr will be turned into an edge-rusher after being used as an off-ball back who excelled in blitzes in Minnesota. Barr changed his heart and went back to the Vikings, but he couldn’t keep up with the high level of play he was used to.

The following year, Barr missed all but two matches after tearing his pectoral muscles in the second game of the season. This led to a contract restructuring that would allow him to become a free agent after the 2021 season. It took some time for Barr to return to the field in 2021, but he made his season debut in week five and played a total of 11 games. However, the Minnesota defense had a very mediocre season, which resulted in Zimmer being fired and Barr’s trip to the open market.

Barr’s injury in 2020 played a big part in it, but his player profile had been in decline before then. He was still playing productive football in both 2019 and 2021, posting very low rates of missed tackles each season, but Parr certainly wasn’t the dominant force he was earlier in his career.

Part of this was due to the NFL’s further evolution toward more passing. Coverage has been one area of ​​Barr’s game that has always lagged behind his other skills, and it becomes more and more obvious as opposing offenses begin to air more often. In both 2019 and 2021, Barr was targeted at least 48 times and allowed at least 72% of those passes to be completed.

For comparison, Micah Parsons (a player with a similar profile who dropped out of college) was targeted ten times less than Parr last year, but allowed only 61.1% of those passes to be completed. In fact, none of the Cowboys allowed a completion rate as high (79.2%) as Barr did in 2021; The only one who came close was Keanu Neal (78.9%) and is no longer with the team.

Barr’s ability as a blitzer and downhill player has always been his calling card, and that’s only gotten more real as his body ages over the years. But in Dallas, Parsons is already filling that role at a level that Barr has not at any point inhaled during his Vikings tenure. While the linebacker can be seen on the occasions when Parsons moves to the line of scrimmage, both Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn have confirmed that they are not looking to move Parsons permanently into the defensive line:

This creates some puzzle when trying to visualize how Barr fits into this defense. He obviously has a lot of experience and leadership, as he was a team captain in Minnesota. But in terms of actually seeing the field, it gets complicated.

Besides Parsons, Dallas likes Gabriel Cox, as Cox’s covering skills nicely complement Parsons’ more downhill playing style, so playing Barr alongside Parsons seems redundant. Then there’s Leighton Vander Esch, who is a veteran in his own right. Vander Esch finished the 2021 season strong, especially in coverage that played a role in the Cowboys re-signing him on a one-year deal. The expectation so far has been for Vander Esch to play alongside Parsons in sprinting periods, with Cox entering clear passing hauls. Indications from the bootcamp so far have been very positive in the first round prior to 2018:

Altogether, Barr’s signature is very similar to that of Malik Hooker a year ago. When a free agency first opened last year, he brought in Dallas Hawker, as well as Damontay Casey and Jayron Kerr, for rehearsals. They signed the latter two, but did not make a move toward Hooker until shortly after the training camp began. The result was a slow start for Hooker, playing heavily behind Kearse and Kazee on the depth chart. He saw his playing time increase later in the year, but only as Kazee’s play declined.

The timing of Barr’s signature suggests a similar approach. If Parr was really able to come and become an impact player immediately, he wouldn’t have been available in August and he wouldn’t have signed for so little money. It’s entirely possible Barr will see the field in batches to start the year, with rotations of Cox and Vander Esch remaining the primary option next to the Parsons.

That doesn’t stop Barr from getting more runs if he’s really impressed, or if Vander Esch or Cox isn’t ready to go. But it seems likely that the Cowboys view Barr as an insurance for now rather than a piece of influence. So any expectations that the Cowboys will get an Anthony Barr award is probably an unfair standard for retaining the team’s newest addition, no matter how badly we wish that to be.