1. Archive

Will Ronde Barber accept greatly reduced role to remain with Bucs?

While the Bucs are celebrating their incoming draft class and additions like Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, the team's longest-tenured player, Ronde Barber, remains a free agent and still is undecided on whether he'll return for a 17th NFL season.

As a storyline, Barber's status has faded to the background as bigger issues have cropped up during this interesting offseason. But until there is a resolution of his future, the question, rightfully, will continue to be asked.

So, why is this taking so long? Likely because Barber, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, wanted to see how or if he would fit into the team's plans after it made its expected player acquisitions. And based on the Bucs' moves so far this offseason, the answer is probably not one Barber is going to love.

Consider: Barber was the starting free safety last season. Goldson, by virtue of his $41.5 million contract signed in March, owns that title now – as he should. So, Barber's 2012 job has been given away.

Barber is still capable of playing a limited role at cornerback, probably as a slot cornerback. But there are reasons to think this job won't be available to him.

The nickel corner is the third cornerback, and as of right now, the top three are Revis, Eric Wright and Johnthan Banks. Unless Wright bombs, there would appear to be no place in that rotation for Barber. The Bucs are going to want to play Banks after investing a second-round pick in him. If he weren't among the top three cornerbacks, it would be stunning. Meanwhile, Revis is essentially the best player on the roster. There's no need to address whether he'll be on the field.

Barber could be relegated to a dime cornerback role, which essentially is the sixth defensive back. That's not a package teams use very often, mostly in third-and-long situations where the offense uses four receivers. Barber also could serve as a backup safety, after having some success as the free safety in 2012.

But unless we're missing something, that would be the extent of Barber's role. He would not be a starter. He would not enjoy extensive playing time. And he might not even make much money depending on what the Bucs could justify paying him for such a limited role.

If his name wasn't Ronde Barber, you might easily mistake him for a bit player under this scenario.

So, what should Barber do? I won't attempt to offer any advice to one of the sharpest athletes I've ever covered.

But if Barber does elect to return for one more season, he'll do so knowing that it will be an experience unlike any since his rookie season – which he spent mostly on the bench.