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Barber, Bucs at crossroads

INDIANAPOLIS

Players rarely go out on their own terms in the NFL.

Whether injury, a lack of production or salary concerns mount, players know they're an unlimited resource that will all be replaced one day.

After all, the job belongs to the employer and only they can decide who will fill the position.

Some time in the next week or so, the Bucs will have to determine if Ronde Barber will be back for a 17th season.

One person who might know the answer already? Barber.

If he decides 16 years in the NFL is enough, then that is that.

Barber will be 38 in April and there are virtually no boxes left to check off in a career that is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration — five Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl ring, 47 interceptions and 28 sacks.

But if Barber wants to continue playing — and some close to him believe he would — the Bucs could have a delicate situation.

No one at One Buc Place has made an attempt to contact Barber yet. Why? A couple reasons.

Coach Greg Schiano said this week at the NFL scouting combine he wanted Barber to have time to heal physically and recharge mentally so he doesn't make a decision under duress. Second, the team needs time to evaluate talent in the draft and free agency — both of which offer plenty of safety help.

It also has to consider other players on the roster. A year ago, the team used its first-round pick on Alabama S Mark Barron, who started 16 games alongside Barber.

Bucs coaches could determine Barron, not Barber, is better suited down low in the tackle box when teams use three or four receivers. What role would that leave on passing downs for Barber, who made a career of playing in the slot?

All Barber has asked for before signing one-year contracts the past three seasons is a fair chance to compete for the starting job. Every year, he earned it. Last season, Barber led the team with four interceptions and played well after moving from cornerback.

But how could the team know exactly when Barber's legs will give out? It is in uncharted territory because so few players have ever lasted this long in the league. Will it be December? October? July?

Would Barber be content with a part-time role? How much money is he willing to accept for getting his body ready for an NFL season? Last year, he earned $3 million in base salary and another $1 million in incentives for playing time.

Try making that in television.

One thing the Bucs believe: Barber will not want to play for another organization. That's a plus. Nobody wants to be the guy who forced Johnny Unitas to the Chargers, Joe Namath to the Rams or O.J. Simpson to the 49ers.

But the organization has botched these things before. LB Derrick Brooks still disagrees with the process that led to his release in 2009 as part of a salary dump.

Brooks wasn't given a chance to decide whether to accept a reduced role or even to announce his own retirement.

Barber is the last remaining member of the Super Bowl XXXVII title team. He is on the team's Mount Rushmore with Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Brooks. Bucs royalty.

A separation someday is inevitable. But neither the team nor Barber wants to be the first to say goodbye. Not yet, anyway.

Look for: The team cut ties with LB Quincy Black, who had a nerve graft at the end of January and has limited movement in his left arm. Black is on the hook for a $5.5 million base salary in 2013. If he can't play, he's eligible for $1 million injury protection. … The only chance CB Eric Wright has of remaining is to take a salary reduction, but the team hasn't decided if it wants him aboard. … The general feeling about TE Dallas Clark at the combine is he will try to reunite with QB Peyton Manning in Denver. … The Bucs might be banking that Roy Miller knows he's most effective playing a tilted nose tackle, not deployed by many teams, and not test free agency. … The league likely will not suspend DE Da'Quan Bowers for his gun incident in New York, but a fine is almost certain.

Barber, Bucs at crossroads 02/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 8:58pm]
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