Prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, General Manager Mark Dominik spent some time on the sideline with Connor Barth, the accomplished Buccaneers kicker who is out for the season with an Achilles tendon injury. Their talk proved to be close to the final step in a process that has been in the works since Barth suffered his mishap in a charity basketball game in July, a "non-football" injury that gave the Buccaneers an option to avoid paying the remainder of his contract.
Barth and the Buccaneers subsequently came to an agreement that gives him the opportunity to earn all of the remaining money in his contract, which runs through the 2015 season, and – as both sides hope – regain his job as Tampa Bay's kicker next year.
"We figured it all out, we worked it all out and I think both sides are happy," said Dominik on Wednesday as the team was beginning an afternoon practice behind One Buccaneer Place. "We're happy we were able to come through that process and make him feel comfortable. We understand this is an unfortunate event that happened with one of our players, and we're excited to, a year from now, have Connor back out here competing.
Dominik said the Buccaneers will honor Barth's $500,000 salary for 2013 and keep the final two years of his deal in place. The 2014 portion of that contract was restructured to provide the team with some protection in case Barth is unable to make a successful comeback from his injury or win the competition to be the Bucs' kicker.
"We don't have to do anything because it was a non-football injury, so you don't have to pay a penny. But we just felt like as an organization, through the process, it was the right thing to do," said Dominik. "We have a lot of respect for Connor. We really like him as a person and as a player, both. He's been a good Buccaneer. We set up his contract to give him every opportunity to earn his final two years and still [be] with the club next year.
"I thought it was important because Connor's been such a good kicker for us [for him] to have every chance to earn all the money that he could in the final two years. We made sure that he's able to make all the money that he can make, assuming he makes our team."
Indeed, Barth ranks as the most accurate kicker in franchise history, having made 84.3% of his field goal attempts (91 of 108) since joining the team midway through the 2009 season. In 2011, he shattered the Buccaneers' single-season record by making 26 of his 28 tries for a field goal success rate of 92.9% that ranked second in the NFL. He also holds the team record for consecutive field goals made, with 25 from October, 2011 through September of last season. Barth has been deadly from long distance, as well, making 12 of 19 tries from 50 yards or further and recording four of the longest field goals in team annals.
The Buccaneers are hoping Barth can return to that form, and don't believe the Achilles injury will hold him back in the long run. Though Barth was still wearing a walking boot on his left foot when he met with Dominik on the sideline Sunday, it was clear to the team that his recovery from July's injury was going well. The Buccaneers have received favorable reports from Barth's doctor in North Carolina and recently got an up-close example of a player resuming his career after an Achilles injury.
"Generally, Achilles tears, when they heal, there's no greater of a chance of it re-rupturing again," said Dominik. "I know we learned that through