Ronde Barber's decision a process for him -- and the Bucs
It’s a simple question with a complex answer: Will Bucs icon Ronde Barber return for a 17th NFL season?
What’s so complicated, you ask? Where to start?
Let’s look back a bit before looking ahead. Barber has had an understanding with Bucs general manager Mark Dominik for the last couple of seasons, with both men agreeing to handle Barber’s future on a year-to-year basis. As such, he’s signed a series of one-year contracts and, as a result, will be a free agent again this spring.
But this isn’t as simple as Barber deciding whether he wants to play – which he says he is yet to do.
There are a few other questions that must be answered first. Among them: Do the Bucs want Barber back? Coach Greg Schiano has said he does, which is really the only sensible answer when that question is asked publicly (Come on: the man's statue sits in the lobby of One Buc Place).
But there are some follow-ups to be asked: What’s Barber’s role going to be? Do the Bucs still think he can cover ground sufficiently to provide the help needed from a free safety? Are there any thoughts about Barber playing a part-time role, say in nickel packages? And how much are they willing to pay him, by the way?
These aren’t going to be pleasant conversations, but the Bucs have to have them when the subject is a soon-to-be 38-year old player. And knowing Barber, I believe the answers to those questions will go a long way toward helping him make up his mind.
Would a player who has proudly started 215 games – tied for the sixth-longest in NFL history – be willing to accept a role off the bench? Is he up for another brutal training camp and another season of wear and tear on his body for less than his current $3 million salary?
These are hypothetical questions for now, but they aren’t unfathomable, either.
Something that bodes well for Barber – if he wants to continue playing – is that the Bucs are already likely to have extensive turnover in their secondary. Cornerback Eric Wright isn’t expected to return, with the Bucs having the option to void his contract and expected to do so. And after the trade of the team’s other starting cornerback, Aqib Talib, there are likely to be two new starting cornerbacks in 2013. Making a change at free safety with Barber would mean a third change among the four starting defensive backs. That’s far from ideal.
Here’s something else that will help Barber: His performance.
It was spotty at times and there were moments where his age really showed. But the total package was a good. The move to safety removed Barber from situations in which he was overmatched in coverage against bigger receivers, allowing him to instead take better advantage of his instincts and letting him showcase his tackling ability. It’s also important to note that the fact that Barber has lost a step is not as detrimental when playing safety.
Barber was third on the team with 91 combined tackles (solo plus assists) and had a team-high four interceptions. His support against the run was a key factor in the Bucs having the league’s best run defense.
Still, none of that makes his return a sure thing. When the decision finally is made, rest assured it won’t be an easy one. And, given the many variables, it most certainly won’t be a simple one.