What the Bucs' Ronde Barber decision means for Mark Barron
No single factor is going to ultimately decide what path the Bucs choose when it comes to the future of veteran free safety Ronde Barber.
There are many facets, including Barber’s level of interest, the salary the team is willing to pay, Barber’s role and the ability of the club to find a replacement. But there’s one part of this decision that impacts another key member of the Tampa Bay secondary, too.
You might have read during the past few days in our newspaper references to the way the Bucs used Barber last season – often in the tackle box, much like a strong safety – and what that has meant for 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron, the team’s actual strong safety.
Barber is still an effective player, but this is where it gets dicey. The Bucs certainly want more out of Barron, and should expect it from a No. 7 overall draft choice. But Barron’s optimum role might be playing in the spot Barber often does – near the line of scrimmage where Barron can showcase his physicality.
After all, that’s a big reason why the Bucs drafted him in the first place, because of the impact he would have on their run defense. But at those times when Barber is near the line of scrimmage and Barron is lined up 25 yards deep in the secondary, it’s essentially downplaying Barron’s best asset. Playing Barron in the deep middle also gives Barron more coverage responsibility, which isn’t his strength.
So, why not flip-flop the roles if Barber returns, you ask? There are two reasons: For one, Barber’s instincts are invaluable when he’s nearer the action; secondly, with his 38th birthday looming in April, Barber obviously isn’t going to win many footraces on the back end. Playing him at the line of scrimmage some of the time reduces his exposure to mismatches.
If you’re looking to me to provide a suggested course of action here, don’t. This part of the decision really complicates things because there’s no obvious answer. There are arguments for and against either path.
Besides, I’m not here to push an icon out the door. It’s the job of the well-paid guys on the second floor of One Buc Place – namely coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik – to make these kinds of high-level decisions.
No one knows how this ultimately will end, including Barber, who hasn’t had any dialogue with the Bucs.
But expect a decision soon. Schiano and Dominik returned from the NFL Combine this week, and meeting with Barber is on their to-do list. When they finally get together, they’ll have a lot to talk about – including how this decision will impact others, like Barron.