Ronde Barber and Jerry Wunsch have developed into consistently strong performers for the Buccaneers
This is the news you've been waiting for. On Monday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned a remarkable offseason into a nearly perfect one by agreeing to terms on new contracts for both CB Ronde Barber and T Jerry Wunsch.
Both Barber and Wunsch were unrestricted free agents, meaning they were free to sign with any team in the NFL. When the Bucs dove so aggressively into the free agent market in March, adding Pro Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson and Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice, fears were raised that Barber, Wunsch and the rest of the Buccaneers' own free agents would be squeezed out of the picture.
But, once again, you have to tip your hat to General Manager Rich McKay, because that's exactly what he has avoided doing to the Bucs' salary cap.
"We feel very fortunate to be able to retain both Jerry and Ronde," said McKay. "These are two players that have started a lot of games for us and are the type of quality individuals who make positive contributions not only on the field, but off of it as well."
Neither Barber or Wunsch have officially signed their new contracts yet, but both had agreed to terms on multi-year deals by late Monday afternoon. A press conference at team headquarters is anticipated for mid-afternoon on Tuesday, after the actual signing has taken place. The press conference will be carried live on Buccaneers.com.
In the meantime, the Buccaneers will not announce the terms for either deal, including the contract lengths.
That news is secondary, however, to the simple importance of retaining the services of Wunsch and Barber. Both had developed into key components on the Buccaneer squad that advanced to the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
By bringing Wunsch back into the fold, the Buccaneers have made themselves less of a hostage to the position on draft weekend (April 21-22). Wunsch has started the last 29 games at right tackle for the Buccaneers, gradually developing into one of the team's most consistent linemen. With Wunsch anchoring the right side, Tampa Bay rushed for 2,066 yards last season and set a team record by averaging 4.22 yards per carry.
"I wanted to stay in Tampa Bay," said Wunsch on Monday. "I've put a lot of work in here for four years, and I wanted to continue that and have the opportunity to possibly retire as a Buccaneer. That also played into the decision, particularly given the opportunity to keep playing for Coach Dungy and remain a part of this organization."
On a defense that sent four players to the Pro Bowl, Barber was the unsung hero, consistently handling the wide variety of tasks the Buccaneers ask of their cornerbacks. His impressively varied stat line for 2000 included 97 tackles (tied for fourth on the team), 5.5 sacks (fourth), two interceptions (fourth), one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 20 passes defensed (second) and two touchdowns (first among defensive players).
Barber could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The Buccaneers' remaining list of unrestricted free agents has been reduced to six players. LB Don Davis previously signed with the St. Louis Rams and TE Patrick Hape left for the Denver Broncos. Still unsigned are G Kevin Dogins, DE/DT Tyoka Jackson, G Frank Middleton, S Damien Robinson, LS Morris Unutoa and CB Floyd Young.