TAMPA — Ronde Barber would like to end his NFL career on his own terms. The 35-year-old cornerback is entering his 14th season and the final year of his contract with the Bucs.
If it plays out the way Barber hopes, perhaps at the end of the 2010 season, he will be the one initiating the goodbyes.
"Very few guys get to go into Mark Dominik's office or Raheem Morris' office and say, 'Hey buddy, I'm done. I've had enough,' " Barber said Tuesday. "Most guys get it the other way. They don't think you can play anymore. But that's what it would be for me, to look those guys in the eyes, and call the Glazers and say, 'Thanks for the opportunity, it's been fun.' I don't know when that is. Maybe it will be at the end of this year."
The five-time Pro Bowl pick is coming off a season in which he had no interceptions for the first time since his rookie year. But Barber says the tape indicates he played well in 2009, despite the Bucs' struggles on defense until coach Raheem Morris took over playcalling for the final six games.
Barber said he isn't certain when he will know the right time to step away, but he knows he won't play below the standard he has established.
"For me, I have no idea what it will be, but I'll know," Barber said. "You all won't know. It won't be to the point where you all are sitting up in the press box and you say, 'God, that dude can't play anymore.' I promise you it won't be that.
"It's there, obviously. I'm not thinking about it. It's nothing I have to address. I'm 35 years old, man. I don't pretend that I'm not. I understand the end is nearer than the beginning. Significantly so. But that's not going to affect how I come to work every day."
Barber, the Bucs' career interception leader, eventually will give away to another cornerback. The Bucs hope Vanderbilt rookie Myron Lewis will one day take his place. Morris has raised the prospect of Barber playing another five years as the slot defender during nickel pass situations.
Certainly, Barber, the Bucs' lone survivor from their Super Bowl XXXVII victory, appears in good shape. He says every year he changes his offseason training regimen. This year, he trained with his wife, Claudia, for biathlons.
But when he was a third-round pick out of Virginia in 1997, he never figured to play 14 NFL seasons.
"I definitely didn't set out (to play) this long," Barber said. "When I started, I was like, 'Can I get three years without them cutting me?' Can I get three years in? I tell a lot of our guys this … you can't start out looking to play 14 years. That's impossible.
"You don't know how your injury situation is going to go, you damn sure don't know how your contract situation is going to go, what the market is going to tell you you're worth. You just keep grinding day to day. … Fourteen years later, you're still here."
But don't think this will be a nostalgic season. He's not into farewell tours. Besides, Barber said he has already surveyed his surroundings.
"I've been smelling roses for five years, bro," Barber said. "At least three of them. I remember I walked off the field last year against Atlanta and I was like, 'Damn, if I decide in a month or whenever I decide whether to play or not … if this is the last time I'm looking at this stadium as a player, what am I going to remember?' I've done that in a lot of places I've been to. At the end of the day, I still decided I wanted to play and I'm still going."