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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Talib's season-ending injury could be first of many changes in Bucs secondary



When the Bucs on Monday placed cornerback Aqib Talib on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury, it was more than just a routine transaction. Although it was rather apparent Talib might be headed to I.R. given his inability to play for most of the past three weeks, there’s a bigger context here.

Talib’s season-ending injury could be the first in a series of dominoes to fall that would leave the Tampa Bay secondary looking awfully different next season.

Let’s take a closer look at why and how:

For one, Talib’s future, as has been well-documented, is uncertain, at best. Talib not only has been placed on injured reserve two seasons in a row, he also faces a trial in March in Texas where he’ll face a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a shooting incident in Garland. Talib faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Unless Talib walks away unscathed, it’s reasonable to think his return to Tampa Bay is a long shot. If he does, he has one year remaining on his five-year rookie contract.

Let’s move on to another member of the secondary, Bucs great Ronde Barber. He’ll go down as one of the franchise’s finest players once his career ends, and that time could be upon us.

Barber, 36, hasn’t foreshadowed what he’ll do when the season concludes, but he’s been clear that his commitment to this season didn’t mean he’d return for 2012. His intent has been to take things on a year-to-year basis, meaning he faces a decision after the season ends.

And here’s an undeniable fact that even Barber likely would admit: The odds of him returning are probably lower if Raheem Morris is not retained as head coach. Morris and Barber have a close relationship, and Morris’ willingness to use Barber as a slot cornerback has allowed Barber to excel even at an age when the garden-variety cornerback has long ago retired.

Next up is strong safety Sean Jones. His two-year contract expires at the end of the season, and given the dropoff in his play in the second half of the season, it’s becoming more likely he won’t return.

The Bucs have committed to bringing back safety Tanard Jackson after extending his contract last month, and Cody Grimm returns from a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve. As a result, retaining Jones isn’t a necessity – even if the Bucs deem that a good decision.

It’s difficult to predict what other transition might be ahead in the defensive secondary, but there could be more beyond what’s outlined here. One thing’s clear: As this disappointing season nears its end, we already can see this is just one of many areas in which the makeup of the team could change dramatically.

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 10:49am]


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