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Ronde Barber tells Tampa Bay Buccaneers he will return for 16th season

TAMPA — All Ronde Barber needed was a few more aging partners in prime.

The Bucs cornerback, who turns 37 on April 7, said he was encouraged by the team's signing of three marquee veteran free agents last week. So he informed the Bucs on Wednesday he will return for a 16th season and agreed to a one-year deal.

"I'm really excited about the direction of the team, the moves we've made, and I can't wait to get back to work," Barber said in a statement released by the team.

When asked why he wanted to continue playing instead of thinking AARP, Barber said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times, "Because I can. And there is nothing as yet that says I cannot."

The Bucs committed $140.5 million in the first 24 hours of the free agent signing period last week, agreeing to contracts with Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson (29), Saints guard Carl Nicks (27 in May) and Lions cornerback Eric Wright (27 in July). Barber is the only player on the roster older than 30, but a few teammates are creeping up on it.

Terms of Barber's contract were not disclosed. The Bucs captain signed a one-year, $4 million deal to play in 2011.

"Man, I'm so glad Ronde coming back that's a great attribute to our organization not only on the field but off as well," defensive end Da'Quan Bowers said on Twitter.

Barber has the NFL's longest streak of consecutive-games started, 199, most by a cornerback in league history. He broke his right arm in last season's finale at Atlanta and did not play in the second half, but he is expected to be ready for offseason workouts.

Coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik met with Barber just before the start of free agency and informed him they wanted him to play in 2012. Barber said he needed time to decide.

"Mark did a good job making me feel like I should be back," Barber said.

Schiano will be the fourth Bucs head coach for Barber, who was a third-round draft pick by Tampa Bay out of Virginia in 1997.

Barber presumably will compete for the starting right cornerback spot with Wright, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract last week. Left cornerback Aqib Talib has another year on his contract and is expected to return, pending the outcome of his trial in Texas on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, scheduled to begin April 16.

Barber, a five-time Pro Bowl player, was the team's most consistent defensive player last season with 79 tackles, a sack and three interceptions. He also recorded five tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was one of only two Bucs to compile a statistic in every defensive category.

But his future was uncertain after the team fired Raheem Morris as coach after a 4-12 record in 2011, including 10 straight losses to end the season.

Assuming Talib's legal problems are resolved in his favor, the Bucs should be improved in the secondary after allowing a league-worst 30 touchdown passes last season.

The Bucs also are expected to draft a cornerback, possibly with the No. 5 overall selection. Louisiana State's Morris Claiborne is a player they are considering if he is available. The Bucs this offseason hired Claiborne's defensive backs coach at LSU, Ron Cooper, to coach their secondary.

. fast facts

Ronde Barber

• Heads into 16th season

• Turns 37 on April 7

• Bucs record for games played (225)

• Leads active NFL players in consecutive starts (199), most all time for a cornerback

• Only NFL player with at least 25 sacks and 40 interceptions; has 27 and 43, respectively

• Voted to NFL 2000s All-Decade Team

Ronde Barber tells Tampa Bay Buccaneers he will return for 16th season 03/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 10:50pm]
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