The biggest revamp to the Minnesota Vikings under the new regime of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell may be at the linebacker position.
Switching to a 3-4 base defense, many of the outside linebackers from Mike Zimmer’s defense may be obsolete in the new scheme. Needing adept pass-rushers at outside linebacker and nimble, versatile inside linebackers, Minnesota rebuilt its linebacking core by transitioning some of its edge rushers to outside linebacker and finding speedy inside linebackers through the draft and rookie free agency.
However, Wilson has found a new home elsewhere in the NFC.
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Saints Sign Eric Wilson
The New Orleans Saints announced on May 16 that they had signed Wilson. Wilson, an undrafted rookie in 2017, spent four seasons in Minnesota.
He had a breakout year in 2020 when Barr suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle injury in Week 2. Wilson tallied 122 tackles, eight tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, three sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble in 16 games and 15 starts.
Becoming a free agent the following offseason, Wilson inked a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles but was released after seven games. Wilson, who emerged as a special teamer with the Vikings, couldn’t cement a role on defense or special teams with developing talent underneath him emerging.
“We had some guys with Davion (Taylor) developing and doing some good things, we wanted to give him more playing time,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said of Wilson’s release, per NJ.com. “On special teams, when it comes to the backup linebackers, they are such an important of special teams. Not that Eric didn’t play well on special teams or do his job when he was practicing special teams, but Shaun (Bradley) has really flourished on special teams.”
Wilson was picked up by Houston Texans the day after Philadelphia released him but did not see the field often in Houston, registering only three tackles in seven games.
Wilson will reunite with the Vikings in Week 4, when Minnesota and New Orleans meet in London on Sunday, October 2.
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Barr’s Untapped Pass-Rush Potential
Barr remaining a free agent has come as a surprise after the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker put forth a strong 2021 season despite playing through injury. He tallied 72 tackles, three interceptions five passes defended and 2.5 sacks last season.
However, Barr, who played as a 3-4 outside linebacker at UCLA, was drafted by Zimmer to be the centerpiece of his 4-3 scheme and was well-respected, earning his four Pro Bowl nods from 2015 to 2018.
But before playing in a 4-3, Barr was one of college football’s elite pass-rushers. Barr tallied 41.5 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks in two seasons as a starter for the Bruins.
Barr never realized his potential as an NFL pass-rusher and may not have that same explosiveness he had in college to lead the league in sacks. But he may be worth a flyer if he remains unsigned approaching training camp in August.
In his introductory press conference, O’Connell didn’t count out Barr when evaluating the defense despite the veteran linebacker reaching free agency.
“With linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, those guys have long been huge issues for people in this league defensively. I think there’s ways to use those guys and allow them to play with an attacking mindset, while they’re still responsible for the things they’re responsible for defensively,” O’Connell said in his introductory press conference on February 17. “And then I think we’ve got players both internal and on the edges defensive line-wise that can impact the quarterback.”