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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

No country for old men? Some believe Barber will surprise again



Brian Urlacher said the Bears weren't being genuine when they said they wanted him to stay with the team. Charles Woodson was released by the Packers. Ed Reed took the money and ran to the Texans.

It's been a tough few weeks for some of the NFL's iconic players. It's just a reminder that loyalty -- like longevity -- is a rare thing in this league.

Which brings us to Ronde Barber. Sometime in the next few days, coach Greg Schiano will contact the Bucs' Pro Bowl defensive back to gently probe for his decision. Barber, who will be 38 next month, has been offered a chance to return for a 17th season. However, with the signing of safety Dashon Goldson, he most likely won't be a starter.

"I don't want him to feel pressured at all,'' Schiano said. "He's the epitome of a Buc and I really want him to do what he feels is best. If he comes back, that's good for us. If he doesn't come back because that's what he decided to do, then good for him. I thought he played well and I have some visions of what he can do.''

But what will Barber do? Believe it or not, those close to him believe he will play. The reason? He played too well in 2012 to consider retirement.

At the moment, the Bucs don't have enough defensive backs on their roster to play a game. That's likely to change as free agency continues, the draft nears and the New York Jets decide whether they really want to trade Darrelle Revis.

At the very least, Barber would be effective playing in the slot when teams go to three receiver sets. The way teams throw the football and spread defenses out, Barber could play more than half the defensive snaps even in a limited role.

What we don't know is how much the Bucs have offered to pay him. It's never been about the money for Barber, but there is a price for which a veteran player doesn't want to put his body through the rigors of preparing for an NFL season.

Urlacher was given a 1-year, $2-million offer. He made a 1-year, $3.5-million counteroffer and another $500,000 in play time incentives. The Bears wouldn't budge and now Urlacher has to try and find another team.

Barber earned $3-million in base salary in 2012 and another $1-million in play-time incentives. It's pure speculation, but one can only assume the Bucs' offer to Barber for next season would be similar to what the Bears were willing to spend to keep Urlacher another year.

The difference is simple: Ronde Barber is still a durable, productive player. He is the only player in NFL history with at least 40 interceptions (43) and 25 sacks (27) and last season, playing safety for the first time in his career, he recorded 91 tackles and four interceptions. What's more, Barber has played in 241 career games, the most in club history, and has never missed one due to injury or illness. Urlacher missed the final four games of 2012 with a hamstring injury.

Physically, Barber said he feels as good as he has after any recent season. Mentally, well, the guy is a football player and endured one of the toughest training camps of his career at age 37.

Only Barber knows for sure what he will do. But if you have bet in the past that he will play, you would've been right 16 straight times.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:45pm]


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