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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs tell Barber he'd be welcomed back for 16th season during meeting

9

March

The Bucs have told Ronde Barber they want him back for a 16th season. He told them he needs a little more time to think about it.

That was the outcome of a meeting Friday between Barber, Bucs coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik.

"Ronde, coach Schiano and I have had several meetings, he knows we'd like him back for a 16th season,'' Dominik said in a text to the Tampa Bay Times. "We will respect his wish for a little more time to make his decision and look forward to speaking with him again soon.''

Barber, who turns 37 next month and owns the NFL's longest starting streak at 199 games, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The five-time Pro Bowl cornerback was the Bucs' most consistent defensive player last season with 79 tackles, a sack and three interceptions. He suffered a broken arm in the first half of the Bucs' season finale at Atlanta and underwent surgery but is not expected to miss any time this off-season should he decide to resume playing.

"We've had some candid conversations about my future,'' Barber said in a text to the Times. "And yes, he told me they want me back. (The Bucs) are, however, going to be players at the (cornerback) position in free agency/draft, but that doesn't affect my decision.''

A year ago, Barber signed a 1-year contract with the Bucs for $4-million. With starting cornerback Aqib Talib facing a trial in Texas later this month on a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon, Tampa Bay is hoping to clear up its picture at defensive back before the start of free agency Tuesday.

However, Barber said Friday the Bucs have not given him a timetable to make his decision.

"I'm under no pressure,'' Barber said.

The Bucs are $67-million under the salary cap and expected to make a run at signing either Titans free agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan or Chiefs' free agent Brandon Carr. The Bucs also own the No. 5 overall pick in the draft and are in a prime position to possibly select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

Schiano met with Barber prior to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis several weeks ago and said he was looking forward to Friday's meeting to discuss how the franchise leader in career games played with 225 would 'fit' into the new defense.

"I just need to tell him what my vision is for the football team and hear from him how he sees how he fits in that,'' Schiano said recently. "I think it’s going to be a great exchange. He knows what this is about, he’s been doing it so long.''

In fact, when Schiano was the Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator in 1999-2000, he used to drive from Coral Gables to Tampa and watch Barber practice at the Bucs' old facility on Westshore Blvd.

Barber has been non-committal about his plans for 2012 and could be contemplating retirement after a career worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. But those whom Barber relies on to evaluate his play -- including former Bucs head coach Raheem Morris -- believe Barber has more football left in him.

Certainly, Barber's performance last season did nothing to change that perception. Some have speculated Barber could rejoin Morris, who is the defensive backs coach with the Washington Redskins. But Barber always has expressed a desire to play his entire career in Tampa Bay.

Only Barber can decide whether that career will continue.       

[Last modified: Friday, March 9, 2012 3:42pm]

    

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