DT Warren Sapp, CB Ronde Barber and LB Derrick Brooks were all among the best to play at their best positions during the 2000s
Will Derrick Brooks eventually find himself in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? How about Warren Sapp? Ronde Barber?
One thing we know: Those three were among the very best players in the National Football League during the recently-completed decade of the 2000s. That is the opinion, at least, of the same people who vote for the game's ultimate honor, the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
On Sunday, shortly before the 2010 Pro Bowl was to be played, the NFL announced its All-Decade Team for the 2000s, as chosen by the aforementioned committee. Barber, Brooks and Sapp were all chosen for the team, as was former Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy.
Barber was one of four cornerbacks chosen as the best of the decade, along with Champ Bailey, Ty Law and Charles Woodson.
Brooks was one of six linebackers named to the team, joining fellow stars Ray Lewis, Joey Porter, Zach Thomas, Brian Urlacher and DeMarcus Ware.
And Sapp rounded out a team of four defensive tackles that also included La'Roi Glover, Richard Seymour and Kevin Williams.
Dungy was one of two head coaches chosen for the All-Decade team, along with Bill Belichick. He coached the Buccaneers in 2000 and 2001 at the end of a six-year stint at the team's helm. He went on to serve as the head coach in Indianapolis from 2002-08 and led the Colts to a Super Bowl championship in 2006.
Barber, who joined the Buccaneers in 1997 as a third-round draft pick, played every season in the 2000s for the Buccaneers - all 160 games, in fact - and remains on the roster heading into the next decade. Brooks began his career in Tampa in 1995 and played 14 seasons for the Buccaneers, including the first nine of the 2000s. Sapp, like Brooks a first-round pick in '95, played for the Buccaneers through 2003 before finishing his NFL career with four seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
"Obviously, this is quite an honor," said Barber. "To be singled out among the thousands of players who have played during the 2000s is pretty special. What it means to me is that the hard work I've put in all these years has paid off, and I've been fortunate to have a pretty successful career. I think the fact that it started, really, at top of this decade with a big year and has continued since then shows my resiliency. I think I've had a pretty good career and it's rewarding to be recognized for it."
All three past and current Buccaneers on the All-Decade team had outsized contributions during the 2000s that were difficult to ignore.
In nine seasons during the 2000s (2000-08), Brooks produced 1,434 tackles, 17 interceptions, nine sacks and 17 forced fumbles. He was selected for eight Pro Bowls during the decade (of the 11 in his career) and was the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. All eight of Brooks' defensive touchdowns (including the postseason) were scored during the 2000s.
Barber was as prolific as Brooks, combining 1,013 tackles with 33 interceptions, 21 sacks, 172 passes defensed, eight forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. All five of his Pro Bowl trips have come during the 2000s, and he was also an AP All-Pro first-team choice twice and a second-team choice on two other occasions. Barber's 14 return touchdowns (including the postseason) even trump Brooks' total, and all but one of those came during the past decade. Barber remains the only cornerback in NFL history with at least 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in his career, and the majority of that occurred during the 2000s.
Several of Sapp's best seasons, including a 10.5-sack campaign in 1997 and a 12.5-sack effort in 1999, came before the 2000s began. Still, he kicked off the decade in question with a career-high 16.5 sacks in 2000 and was clearly still in his dominant prime as the 2000s began. Sapp's NFL Defensive Player of the Year award came in 1999, but he would play eight more seasons with the Buccaneers and Raiders and remain a force until the end. During the 2000s, Sapp played in 121 games and registered 54.5 sacks, reaching double figures in that category as recently as 2006. He also snared three interceptions and forced eight fumbles during that span and even caught a pair of touchdown passes. He was selected for the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons with the Buccaneers during the decade.
The Hall of Fame Selection Committee chose a 53-man roster to represent the NFL during the decade, including two quarterbacks, four running backs, one fullback, two tight ends, four wide receivers, four tackles, four guards, two centers, four defensive ends, four defensive tackles, six linebackers, four cornerbacks, four safeties, two kick returners, two punt returners, two punters and two placekickers. Of those 53, 12 were set to participate in this year's Pro Bowl: kicker David Akers, cornerback Champ Bailey, kick returner Joshua Cribbs, safety Brian Dawkins, guards Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson, tight end Antonio Gates, punter Shane Lechler, center Kevin Mawae, linebackers Ray Lewis and DeMarcus Ware and defensive end Julius Peppers. In addition, three other players who were selected for the Pro Bowl but will not play because their teams are competing in the Super Bowl the following Sunday were named to the All-Decade Team: quarterback Peyton Manning and defensive end Dwight Freeney of the Colts and safety Darren Sharper of the New Orleans Saints.