By: Barry Barnes, Founder/Senior Writer
For a NFL player, walking away from the game at their own terms is nearly unheard of. Due to free agency and the salary cap structure of today’s NFL, it’s nearly impossible for a player to earn the loyalty of an organization and garner the respect of a franchise to allow an employee to make the ultimate decision, instead of giving them an optimum. Ronde Barber officially walked away from the game he loves Thursday afternoon, and the Bucs gave the Super Bowl XXXVII champion the stage at his terms after 16 seasons in Tampa Bay.
“Rondé is synonymous with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, establishing himself as one of our franchise’s iconic players over a 16-year, Hall of Fame-worthy career,” said Buccaneers’ co-chairman Joel Glazer. “When anyone thinks of Rondé, they think of a true professional and leader. He approached every day the same, giving everything he had to make himself and his teammates the best they could be. We will miss him.”
Miss Barber? Not hardly. Thanks to Barber, the Bucs are in a better situation as a playoff contending team than the postseason hopeful Buccaneers the five-time Pro Bowler joined in 1997.
Barber leaves the Bucs’ defense with a loaded secondary consist of defensive backs in Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson (via free agency), Darrelle Revis (via trade), and drafted Johnthan Banks.
It probably would have been difficult for Barber to start among the Bucs’ talented secondary, but wanting him to stay was never questioned. However, Barber felt this was the right time.
“Possibly. That would’ve made it a little bit harder of a decision, obviously,” said Barber when asked would he have played if he was going to start for the 2013 season, according to the USA Today. “But that wasn’t the case. They wanted me to play, I don’t doubt that at all.
“I had open lines of communication with (general manager) Mark (Dominik) the past couple of years about continuing to play,” he continued. “At the end, it was me deciding I didn’t need football as much as I once did and it was time to venture into a new thing.”
Barber was originally selected by the Buccaneers as a third-round selection (66th overall) in the 1997 NFL Draft. Barber was the finishing touch for a solid defensive unit with the likes of Hardy Nickerson, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. Barber helped this solid unit to become dominate, and the Bucs went to the playoffs for the first since 1982 in his rookie season.
Barber played in 241 games (232 starts) for Tampa Bay – both franchise records – while registering a streak of 215 consecutive starts, tied for sixth-longest in NFL history. His 200 consecutive starts at the cornerback position is the most in NFL history, and his 240 consecutive games played ranks second among defensive players since 1970.
During his career, Barber was a sure tackler and never sly from contact, which allowed the Bucs’ front line to be aggressive in their blitz schemes. Barber is the only cornerback in league history to have at least 40 interceptions (47) and 20 sacks (28). He tallied 1,428 tackles – second in franchise history, behind Brooks. Barber returned eight of his 47 interceptions for touchdowns, defensed 243 passes, forced 15 fumbles, recovered 11 fumbles, and posted six additional scores on fumble returns and blocked/deflected punts.
Continuing to be a Buc was never an issue, but in early April, Barber could not get his mind and body on one accord to return for a 17th campaign, especially after experiencing head coach Greg Schiano’s training camp.
“Not really, although I did have probably the hardest preseason last year since I was a rookie in the league,” said Barber. “That’s just the way he’s approaches his job and molding his team. It’s a shock to your system when you first get that, but Greg and I had a great relationship. He’s a really good guy. I applaud his vision on what he wants this football team to be.”
Barber could have retired sooner, but after watching players who he respects in Sapp, Lynch and, most importantly, his twin brother Tiki Barber who either went to play for other teams or left the game sooner than they wanted to, the 38-year old held back and continued to play – well.
Sapp finished his career with the Oakland Raiders and Lynch capped his solid career with the Denver Broncos, where he played four seasons. Apparently, Barber did not want to go that route of leaving Tampa Bay and he was blessed to not be in a position where the Bucs’ organization wanted to cut him.
But through the struggling experiences of his brother Tiki, who retired early in his career, Barber decided to stay in the game much longer. Tiki became a NFL analyst for NBC, and shortly after, attempted to make a comeback to the NFL, to only be denied an opportunity to play for a club. Fortunately, Tiki managed to return to broadcasting, where he apart of the CBS Sports Radio and co-host a morning show from 6 to 9 AM with Dana Jacobson and Brandon Tierney.
For over twenty years, Barber has given his body and mind to football. In return, football, and the Buccaneers, gave Barber national respect, with more doors to be open for him. Barber, quietly, is an all-time NFL great, without being a household name. Barber may not be a first-ballot Hall of Fame, but he will eventually being immortalized in Canton, Ohio.
Most importantly, Barber was able to walk away from the NFL at his own terms. And the Bucs gave him the platform to do so.
“I played it out like I wanted to,” said Barber. “Not until the wheels came off because the wheels definitely aren’t off. But I got enough out of football and football’s gotten enough from me.”
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