The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have re-signed long-time star cornerback Ronde Barber to a one-year deal worth $3 million, and the veteran will likely play in a reduced role that suits him better. He still has the burning desire to play, and coach Greg Schiano stated earlier this offseason that he would be open to bringing back Barber so long as the feeling was mutual. It was, and we now have the terms to this cheaper deal for one of the greatest players in team history.
Ronde Barber anchored the secondary of one of the best defenses in NFL history, when Monte Kiffin roamed the sidelines and the Bucs won the 2002 Super Bowl in blowout fashion (or 2003, if you look at it that way) with Barber entrenched as the shutdown corner. One of the best sack artists at the position in history, Barber notched three sacks that year with 20 passes defended. He has 27 career sacks, 43 picks, 153 tips, 955 solo tackles, and 150 AV (5th among active players in weighted AV).
I want to focus on the 2001 season that Ronde Barber submitted, because it was a classic great CB season for the future Hall of Famer who made his first of three First-Team All-Pro appearances. He picked off a league-high ten passes with a career-high 24 passes defended (insane stuff) for one of the greatest all-around seasons in NFL history. His 2002, 2004, and 2005 seasons are among the best as well, especially the back-to-back First-Team All-Pro’s in 2004 and 2005.
The point of this quick look back into history is that many people just don’t seem to realize how great Ronde Barber truly is. He is one of the greatest cornerbacks in history, because of his leadership, football IQ, run stopping ability, blitzing ability, versatility, and pure coverage skills. He has eight seasons with at least ten passes defended under his belt, which is just insane. He does it all, and he did it to the highest order.
The problem is that Ronde Barber should finish his career. Even though it will be tough to see him go and at least he hasn’t retired too early like his less accountable twin, he’s a 36-year-old cornerback with deteriorating skills. We all know his covering has fallen off the table, but even his much-heralded run stopping ability is falling away. He’s still racking up tackles, but he’s also missing them at a high rate (led CBs in missed tackles last year).
After this season, I hope he realizes that he’s too old to keep doing this. I love watching him, and I know he loves the game and his team, but people are also starting to forget about how much of an impact this guy has had in the league. His terrific seasons last decade are forgotten, even though he is one of the best defensive players of the past twenty years and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Anybody who says otherwise is downplaying his accomplishments too much. He has the stats, the pedigree, the adulation from peers, and the actual game tape and ability to back it up.
However, he isn’t half the player he used to be and it’s showing. We still love his leadership (hopefully he can make a successful transition as a coach like former Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell), and I’m fine with having him for another year on a cheap deal. But just know that Ronde Barber is a Hall of Famer no matter how many times you hear an analyst knock his coverage skills. He stinks now, but he’s a true leader, an intelligent CB, and he used to be one of the greatest defensive players in the NFL. He will- and should- hang it up soon, but I’m going to keep rooting for him even after his retirement.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.