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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Barber will return for 16th season



All Ronde Barber needed was a few more aging partners in prime.

The Bucs cornerback, who turns 37 next month, said he was encouraged by the team's signing of three marquee, veteran free agents last week. So he informed the Bucs Wednesday he will return for a 16th season and agreed to a one-year deal.

"I'm really excited about the direction of the team, the moves we've made, and I can't wait to get back to work,'' Barber said in a statement released by the team.

When asked why he wanted to continue playing instead of thinking AARP, Barber said in a text to the Times, "Because I can. And there is nothing as yet that says I can not.''

The Bucs committed $140.5-million in the first 24 hours of the free agent signing period, agreeing to contracts with top free agents -- Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson (29), Saints guard Carl Nicks (who turns 28 in May) and Lions cornerback Eric Wright (28 in July). Barber is currently the other player on the roster over the age of 30, but at least a few more teammates are creeping up on it.

Terms of Barber's contract were not disclosed. The Bucs captain signed a 1-year, $4-million deal to play in 2011.  

Barber owns the NFL's longest starting streak at 199 games and most by a cornerback in NFL history. He suffered a broken right arm in the season finale at Atlanta and did not play in the second half of that game but is expected to be ready to participate in off-season workouts.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik met with Barber just prior to the start of free agency and informed him they wanted him to play in 2012. Barber said he needed some time to decide and apparently told the club Wednesday he wasn't ready to retire.

"Mark did a good job making me feel like I should be back,'' Barber said.  

Schiano will be the fourth Bucs head coach for Barber, who was a third-round pick by Tampa Bay out of Virginia in 1997.

Presumably, Barber will compete for the starting right cornerback spot with Wright, who signed a 5-year, $37.5-million contract with the Bucs last week. Left cornerback Aqib Talib has another year on his contract and is expected to return pending the outcome of his trial in Dallas County April 16 on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

Barber, a five-time Pro Bowler, was the team's most consistent defensive player last season with 79 tackles, a sack and three interceptions. He also recorded five tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as one of only two Bucs players to compile a statistic in every defensive category. But his future was uncertain after the Bucs fired coach Raheem Morris following a 4-12 record in 2011, including 10-straight losses to end the season.

Assuming Talib's legal problems are resolved in his favor, the Bucs should be improved in the secondary after allowing a league-worst 30 touchdown passes last season.

In addition to Barber's return, safety Cody Grimm will be recovered from a torn meniscus and medial collateral ligament in his right knee in time for training camp.

The Bucs also are expected to draft a cornerback, possibly with the No. 5 overal selection. Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne is a player the team is considering with their first-round pick if he is available. The Bucs hired Claiborne's defensive backs coach at LSU, Ron Cooper, to coach the secondary.

"Man I'm so glad ronde coming back that's a great attribute to our organization not only on the field but off as well,'' Bucs defensive end Da'Quan Bowers tweeted Wednesday.



[Last modified: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 7:57pm]


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