CB Ronde Barber has long been an integral part of the Bucs' defensive core
Ronde Barber can close on a curl route or a gap to the quarterback as quickly as anyone in football. He may be about to do the same on a new contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Several months worth of negotiations between the Bucs and Barber, who could become an unrestricted free agent after this season, appear to have taken a sharp turn toward completion in recent days. On Tuesday, after participating in a two-hour morning practice, Barber acknowledged the progress but stressed that no deal was yet done.
"It's not a done deal until it's a done deal," said Barber stoically. "We're there. I don't have a contract yet, though. I haven't signed it and I haven't seen it. Like I said last week, it's close. When [General Manager] Bruce [Allen] finishes drafting it and we agree to it, then I'll sign it."
Yes, you may feel to read between the lines. The Buccaneers are close to locking up one of the most important figures on their perennially strong defense, and Barber is close to ensuring he's a Buc for life.
"It would be an honor to be in this organization for the entirety of my career, and hopefully it gets done," said Barber. "I think it's getting there. It would be nice. I've put in a lot of good work here. I think they appreciate it and I appreciate this organization and this town. I'd love to stay here."
The Bucs drafted Barber in the third round in 1997. Though he played little as a rookie, the former Virginia standout had established himself as big-play maker by midway through his second season. A full-time starter since 1999, Barber has played in 129 games with 120 starts and amassed 770 tackles, 28 interceptions, 20 sacks and 146 passes defensed. He is third on the Bucs' all-time interceptions list and has more tackles than any other cornerback in franchise annals. Barber is also the only cornerback in NFL history, and one of only seven players overall, to have recorded at least 20 interceptions and at least 20 sacks.
"He's a big part of this organization," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "I don't know that that's a big surprise. We're doing everything we can to keep all of our best players. We like great players, and certainly his caliber, his status is very important to us. But I don't believe anything's official."
Barber's ever-growing numbers are the product of innate ability, hard work and, not coincidentally, a perfect set of skills for the Buccaneers' Cover 2 defense.
"When we go to the nickel, he moves inside, he becomes like [Derrick] Brooks," said that defense's master schemer, Monte Kiffin. "He's like a linebacker in there. He's got to be a linebacker on the run. That's why he makes so many tackles. He's got to be able to blitz like a linebacker, he's got to be able to play Cover 2 a lot. He plays a lot of our Tampa 2. Ronde's so important. He and Brooks are two guys we got running down the middle – that's Tampa 2."
That's an asset the Bucs were eager to keep beyond the 2006 season. It appears that will be possible, but it would be premature to say the deal is done. Barber seems hopeful he'll be signing a piece of paper soon.
"It would be nice to get it done, and the sooner the better," he said. "We've made a lot of progress the past couple weeks and I think both sides are getting happy with where it might be. Again, as soon as he gives me something, I'll be happy to sign it if it's where it's supposed to be."