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Training Camp | 2022

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Spagnola: Finally Deciding To Belly Up To Barr


OXNARD, Calif. – George Edwards is sleeping well these days.

Dan Quinn, too.

Probably include Mike McCarthy with upgraded zzzz's nowadays.

Because when the linebacker coach, defensive coordinator and head coach look at their linebacker corps since Thursday they see in order:

Pro Bowl and 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons.

2018 Pro Bowler Leighton Vander Esch his rookie season, and finally healthy and poised for a reboot.

And now, four-time Pro Bowler Anthony Barr, signed, sealed and delivered, comprising a powerful melatonin for a fidgety coaching staff almost halfway through training camp.

We are talking three Pro Bowl linebackers who can be lined up all in a row, and if the Cowboys choose to play a base 4-3 defense they rarely do, they now can counter any offense wanting to play so-called bully-ball (looking at you San Francisco).

Now it's early, we get it, and Barr just passed his physical on Thursday, meeting with the media on Friday and already placed on PUP, but a temporary holding place to physically ramp up a guy who has been a free agent since the end of the 2021 season after eight years with the Minnesota Vikings. Remember, Barr has not participated in any team supervised offseason weight and conditioning program. Nor any OTA or minicamp practices. Nor the four-day ramp-up the other 90 Cowboys went through last week to start this training camp.

And we know this linebacker three-of-a-kind hand depends on Vander Esch remaining healthy for two consecutive seasons for the first time in this his fifth NFL season

And this depends on Parsons continuing his NFL accension in just his second season that we witnessed last year gaining momentum game-by-game.

Think about this, and I get it, Barr is 30, and last made a Pro Bowl with the Vikings after four straight from 2015-18, but the guy last year in Minnesota finished with 72 tackles in just 11 games. And I get he has only played 13 games in the past two years – just two in 2020 (torn pectoral muscle) and 11 last year after a knee scope to start the season and then an ankle at the end – but my gosh, for a one-year, $2 million base salary with the possibility of making another million in incentives, how could the Cowboys resist.

At the conclusion of the 2021 season, before Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was relieved of his duties, and remember Zimm spent 13 seasons the Cowboys, the last six as defensive coordinator, he had this to say of his impending free agent linebacker:

"(Barr) is a terrific person; he's a really good football player. He does an awful lot of things for this football team, this organization, for the community. He's extremely smart. He's a guy I respect an awful lot."

So, taking all the above into consideration, by my assessment, the Cowboys have never, ever lined up all three linebackers in a 4-3 defense, meaning DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer don't count in in their 3-4 days – with Pro Bowl credentials.

In fact, we can argue this just might become the very best linebacker threesome the Cowboys have fielded since Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan and Dave Edwards lastly in 1972. That's right, 50 years ago.

Oh, we can argue for Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, Bob Breunig and D.D Lewis if you want, and that's pretty strong. Or you might favor the likes of Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen and Kevin Hardy for that one year or Bruce Carter, Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens/Justin Durant.

But really, do you want to?

Of course, this all is based on potential, right. But the prospects look pretty strong, plus think about the possibilities to play matchup football if only two of the guys are at linebacker at the same time, feeling better about then having Parsons or Barr on the line of scrimmage, or say one at linebacker and those two lined up as pass-rushing defensive ends.

Quinn must be in his defensive lab right now rubbing his hands together, trying to come up with different defensive concoctions he is known for inventing, for thinking outside the box, especially now with the extra ingredients he can mix in.

Better watch out Tom Brady in that opener. Who knows, maybe the Cowboys come out with just two defensive linemen with their hands in the dirt and a bunch of roaming, standup linebackers, ol' Tom not knowing who is coming and who is covering. You know, Bill Belichick pulled that stunt a time or three.

"He'll be a good player for us," said Edwards, the Vikings defensive coordinator the first six seasons of Barr's career before joining the Cowboys in 2020 as senior defensive assistant. "He'll be good in the locker room. He'll be good off the field. He's a true pro at the end of the day."

And when wondering if Barr ever came off the field in Minnesota, like was he a first and second down guy and no nickel, or more nickel and dime, Edwards basically shook his head.

"Not when I was there," Edwards said.

Now these Cowboys coaches probably had an awakening earlier in the week when last year's fourth-round draft choice Jabril Cox, coming back from last year's midseason ACL tear, predictably missed practice with some expected knee soreness. That meant it was Parsons, Vander Esch and . . . and . . . Luke Gifford, who played all of 32 defensive snaps last season in the base defense.

After that, there is not another linebacker on the 90-man roster who actually took a defensive snap last year, Malik Jefferson coming the closest with nine special team snaps for the Colts.

Think that wasn't sobering.

So please, don't be asking why in the heck did the Cowboys sign a linebacker when there seems a real need for a veteran wide receiver with both Michael Gallup and James Washington on the mend, possibly through the first month of the season. Or why when there seems to be a real need for a veteran backup swing tackle. And for sure at this early date, why a linebacker when there very well could be a need if a veteran worthy kicker comes available.

And look, none of those are out of the question.

But Barr is only a $2 million cap expenditure. Not like they broke the bank here, and a priceless acquisition if he still has something left in the tank. And if not, you simply take out the eraser. No harm, no foul.

Did make me wonder, though, why a linebacker with a Pro Bowl pedigree and those 72 tackles in 11 games last year still was an available free agent on Aug. 4. Like, why no one with an excess of cap space didn't sign a guy who had a $10 million base salary last year for more than the $2 million he did with the Cowboys. And it wasn't as if the Cowboys suddenly had an epiphany at the linebacker spot and said to self, hey we need a linebacker. It's been mighty obvious.

"Timing is everything," Barr said. "There is no rhyme or reason to it. This was the right time for both parties and hopefully it is a good marriage."

Evidently there were other teams interested in Barr's services and can't imagine there weren't deals for more money available to him. But when listening closely, there were these three factors in the Cowboys favor.

First. his relationship and gained trust with Edwards.

Second, knowing Quinn has the reputation of using guys to accentuate their best abilities.

And third, and don't you forget this, it's still the Cowboys, that Super Bowl drought many want to mention notwithstanding with these players.

Then on top of all that, "I think Dallas is a contender," Barr said. "I wanted to be on a team I think has a chance to win."

And one now with these coaches getting a better night's sleep.

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