Ronde Barber put ink to paper on Wednesday morning, with the only NFL team he's ever signed a contract.
One week after Barber announced his intention to play a 17th professional season and he and the team agreed to the particulars of a new one-year deal, Barber came by One Buccaneer Place to make it official. The return of the five-time Pro Bowl cornerback came on the heels of Tampa Bay's signing of unrestricted free agent cornerback Eric Wright; together, those two developments make the Bucs' secondary appear significantly more solid for the 2012 season.
The Buccaneers also announced that they have re-signed fourth-year tackle Demar Dotson, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal.
Like Wright, who started 16 games and had four interceptions for the playoff-bound Detroit Lions last year, Barber is coming off a strong 2011 performance. He too started all 16 of his team's games – Barber has, in fact, started 199 consecutive outings, the most ever for an NFL cornerback – and led the team with three interceptions. He also contributed 77 tackles, five tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed, one sack, one forced fumble and a safety.
That safety was actually the first of Barber's incredible career, but there isn't much else he has left to accomplish. He already stands first in team history in interceptions (43), passes defensed (232), non-offensive touchdowns (13) and games played (225) and is second to Derrick Brooks in both tackles (1,137) and games started (216).
Barber made the Pro Bowl following the 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008 and was a first-team Associated Press All-Pro selection in 2001, 2004 and 2005. He was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s and is the only player in league history with at least 40 interceptions and at least 25 sacks. Dotson has played 16 NFL seasons, all with the Buccaneers, since Tampa Bay drafted him out of Virginia in the third round in 1997. He has played in every game since the start of the 1998 campaign.
As for Dotson, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been intrigued by the gridiron potential of former college basketball player since he signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Before the start of free agency earlier this month, the Buccaneers extended the necessary qualifying offer to Dotson, making him a restricted free agent and retaining the team's right-of-first-refusal should he strike a deal with another team. On Wednesday, the Bucs announced that they have re-signed Dotson, a reserve offensive tackle for the past three years, to a new two-year contract.
Since the tender offer to Dotson has counted against the Bucs' 2012 salary cap since it was extended (as is the case with all restricted, exclusive rights and franchised free agents), re-signing him to a two-year contract did not affect the team's remaining cap space this year in any substantive way. The qualifying offer was for $1.2 million and the first year of Dotson's new deal calls for a salary of $1 million.
Obviously, Dotson could have simply signed his qualifying offer and played the 2012 season under the resulting one-year contract, after which he would have become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. However, he and the team worked out a longer deal that will allow Dotson to continue his development into a valuable pro football player.
Tampa Bay signed Dotson after the 2009 draft despite the fact that he had played a total of six college football games at Southern Miss, and all of them on the defensive side of the ball. He spent two seasons as a member of the Golden Eagles' hardwood team, playing in 53 games and starting 12 after transferring from Southeastern Illinois College. It wasn't until his last year at Southern Miss that Dotson took his talents to the football field.
The Golden Eagles played the 6-9, 315-pound Dotson on the defensive line, where he saw action in a half-dozen games and made one start. The Buccaneers, however, quickly shifted him to the offensive side of the ball upon his arrival in Tampa, and he showed enough immediate promise to make the 53-man roster to start the regular season. Dotson was inactive for the first seven games of his rookie campaign but then saw action in the Buccaneers' final nine outings, including all three of the team's victories that season.
Dotson's impressive momentum was slowed somewhat in 2010 when he suffered a knee injury in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve for the balance of the year. However, he returned in 2011 to once again win a prominent job on the team's offensive line. He spent most of the season as the one reserve offensive tackle who was active on game days, appearing in 13 contests. Dotson also proved valuable in an additional role, serving as a third tight end in certain formations and even starting two games at that position.
The re-signing of Dotson wraps up the Buccaneers' work in restricted free agency this offseason. The team's only other RFA, defensive end Michael Bennett, signed his qualifying offer last week and will thus return on a one-year deal in 2012. Running back Kregg Lumpkin, the Buccaneers only other potential RFA, actually became an unrestricted free agent, in effect, when the team declined to extend him a qualifying offer. He has since signed with the Seattle Seahawks.