Buccaneers greats Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks are already there and John Lynch is very close, so the next man up is Ronde Barber. Let’s take a look at Barber’s career and make the case for the Hall in his first year of eligibility.
Entering his first year of eligibility Ronde Barber has a solid chance at making the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. John Lynch has failed to make it the past two elections but he’s gotten closer each year. Lynch and Barber were crucial parts of the secondary of the dominant early 2000s defense. While Lynch still has a shot at the hall with his own skill set, Ronde Barber needs to be remembered as a prominent figure in the creation of the nickel corner position.
Ronde Barber was always in the shadow of twin brother Tiki Barber partially because of the position he played. Both of them went to University of Virginia and both declared for the draft in 1997. Tiki Barber was going to be the more recognizable player coming out of college because he was a quality running back. While corner is an important position in the NFL many considered him undersized for a featured corner back. Tiki Barber was selected in the second round by the New York Giants and 30 picks later Ronde was taken in the third round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a rookie Ronde only played one game recording four tackles but this was only the beginning of his stellar legacy in Tampa Bay.
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With Tony Dungy and Rod Marinelli leading the team and the defense the Buccaneers had developed a new defensive scheme aptly named the Tampa 2. With Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks as the focal points of the defense the Buccaneers were consistently strong teams for Ronde’s early career. Barber’s first full season as a starter was in 2000 when he had new career bests with 97 tackles, 20 passes deflected, and 5.5 sacks. Barber was NFC defensive player of the week for the first time in his career in week two with 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, the first of his career. In 2001 Barber made his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams recording ten interceptions.
In 2002 the Buccaneers let go of Tony Dungy to hire Jon Gruden but maintained the defensive staff with Rod Marinelli becoming assistant head coach and defensive line coach while promoting Monte Kiffin to Defensive Coordinator. After losing twice in the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles the past two seasons the Buccaneers had an opportunity at revenge in the NFC Championship game. In the most important game of his career to the date, Barber had the most memorable play of his career. With the Buccaneers up 20-10 late in the fourth quarter the Eagles were driving and gaining a lot of momentum on their home field. Barber then picked off Donovan McNabb and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown, clinching the first Super Bowl appearance for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in franchise history. Not only did that play end the Eagles season but it was also the last game played at Veterans Stadium. Recording five tackles in the Super Bowl, he was part of an under dog team that took out a juggernaut offensive team in the Oakland Raiders.
After the Super Bowl the Buccaneers have failed to win a playoff game since but the defense remained a force in the league even after the departure of Warren Sapp and John Lynch in 2004. With Brooks and Barber being the remaining leaders the team started to decline with no help from the offense and the veteran leadership aging. Barber was a model of consistency averaging 85 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions per year in his final eight seasons.
Ronde Barber is known for being an iron man at his position, starting every game for 13 straight seasons. With the 224 games started, 209 as a corner, no other defensive back has reached the 200 mark since. Barber is also fourth in NFL history with 14 non-offensive touchdowns. In his career Ronde is one of two players to have 40+ interceptions and 20+ sacks, the other is future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson. With five Pro-Bowl and five All-Pro selections Barber had a spectacular career. Leading the entire NFL with ten interceptions in 2001 Barber was also a member of the NFL all decade team for the 2000s. Finishing his career with 47 interceptions, 28 sacks, and 1,028 tackles the numbers are comparable to corners already in the Hall of Fame.
If the numbers aren’t impressive enough Ronde revolutionized the slot corner position. Excelling at blitzing, disguising pressure and anticipating a quarterback’s throw, he has a rightful claim as the most instinctive player of his generation. He may not get in on the first ballot but in my opinion, Ronde Barber is a Hall of Famer.