One of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' all-time greats is officially back in the fold.
Cornerback Ronde Barber has signed a one-year contract extension just days before his contract was set to expire. Barber, who already has played 14 seasons, will be 36 on opening day but is coming off a strong finish to the 2010 season.
Barber, drafted in the third round in 1997, finished the season with three interceptions and 82 tackles, his most stops since 2006. He finished 2010 as the team's starting right cornerback and will likely be a candidate to continue starting there in 2011. He will, however, have to fend off youngsters E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis, both drafted in the past two years.
Barber will become the first Buccaneer to play 15 seasons with the team, though it's not certain that this will be his last. Instead, Barber said, he and the Bucs plan to re-evaluate the situation after the 2011 season and make a decision that works for both parties.
"That's sort of the purpose of this one-year deal," he said. "The deicision is not, at the end of the day, 'Do they want to let go of me or do I want to let go of them?' It'll be a mutually beneficial decision each year. That's kind of how it was this year and how it'll be next year. You have to take some pride in that, some blessings on my side where I've been able to maintain myself throughout these 14 years. I always give myself credit for that.
"It wasn't easy. It's not ging to be easy this year. But at the end of the day, I walk out of here knowing I've done exactly what I wanted to do"
Another issue moving forward is Barber's role on the team. Though he ended the 2010 as a starter and last month coach Raheem Morris declared Barber the Bucs' starting right cornerback, Barber admits he'll be challenged by younger players on the roster. When those challenges come, Barber vows to be ready. In fact, he was practically defiant.
"That always plays itself out," Barber said. "That somewhat depends on their development and what they get done in the offseason. But I know I'm going to go out and be who I've always been. If they're better than me, then perhaps my role does change. But for the time being, I think I'm going in as I left it. I think they'd appreciate having to beat out somebody who's better than you. If they're able to do that, then good for them. It's better for this football team.
"At this point in my career, I know what I am. I try to go get better every day. They're still going to have to work at it if they're going to get on the field ahead of me."
Making Barber's decision to return a bit easier was the Bucs' 10-6 record in 2010. He admitted that another season like 2009, when the Bucs went 3-13, might have impacted his desire to give it another go. Instead, Barber is excited about playing on an up-and-coming team that is growing before his eyes and has a chance to make serious gains in 2011.
"Now is the time," Barber said. "We're still classified as a young football team, but our young guys played like veterans last year. You'd have to be excited about that. I know they are as well. I look forward to not dealing with the pressure of being a young football next year. I think we have different challenges now. Nobody's going to be surprised when we play well. That confidence in ourselves should make us better – at least I hope so."
When the topic turned to his play in particular, Barber said he went about his usual postseason evaluation process, one in which defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake is heavily involved. When all was said and done, Barber felt he was still playing at a high level.
"That evaluation process started right after the season," he said. "The tape was really good. There's some things they asked me to do that I had never done before and I did it really well. To me, it was a really good season. Obviously the numbers were better than the year before. The win column was better than the year before. I think I was a big part of that. I think (coaches) think I was. The evaluation speaks for itself. Tape doesn't lie."