Ronde Barber's career is ending exactly the way it should. It’s ending on his terms.
The 38-year-old cornerback told Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer on Wednesday that he’s retiring after 16 seasons.
Considering that every one of those seasons was spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hugely important that it was Barber who made the call. The Bucs haven’t always been graceful about parting ways with their icons.
They completely botched the ending of Derrick Brooks’ career by unceremoniously releasing him. In that instance, the Bucs didn’t have any dialogue with Brooks until two days after his release, when they were getting hit with tons of blowback from their fan base. Had the dialogue taken place before, Brooks could have slid into retirement regally.
The Bucs also didn’t score any public relations points when they let John Lynch and Warren Sapp go. Those guys went on to finish their careers elsewhere, and the Bucs haven’t been quite as beloved in Tampa Bay since partly because of the way they ran off the franchise’s royalty.
Barber is on a plane with Brooks, Sapp and Lynch. Along with them, he helped form the nucleus of a great defense that helped the Bucs win their only Super Bowl.
Barber deserves a better exit than Brooks, Sapp and Lynch got. He deserves what Mike Alstott got -- a spiffy news conference to formally announce his retirement. Presumably that will come in the next few days. In time, Barber deserves a spot in the team’s Ring of Honor.
Treat this guy right because he always treated the franchise and the fans right. Barber is a fixture in the Tampa Bay area (and it goes beyond just what he did on the field), and the Bucs, who haven’t been packing Raymond James Stadium in recent years, don’t need to endure another ice age with another star from their glory years.
Maybe general manager Mark Dominik learned from the past. Or maybe coach Greg Schiano, who wasn’t around for the departures of Brooks, Sapp and Lynch, holds higher respect for elder players than his predecessors did.
Whatever the case, the Bucs got this one right by putting the ball in Barber’s hands. After last season, a year in which Barber smoothly made the transition from cornerback to free safety, the Bucs came out and publicly said they wanted Barber back.
Barber said he wanted some time to think about it, and the Bucs repeatedly said that was fine. They also repeatedly (even after the NFL draft) kept saying they wanted Barber back.
At one point during the saga, Barber said that he was hoping to wake up one day and the decision would be clear to him. In their own subtle way, the Bucs might have helped make that decision clear.
The whole time Barber was pondering his future, the Bucs were busy overhauling a secondary that was the main reason the Bucs ranked No. 32 in pass defense last season. They went out and signed free safety Dashon Goldson to a big contract in free agency.
All of a sudden, there was no starting job available for a guy with 232 starts who is the only player in NFL history with 40 or more interceptions (47) and 20 or more sacks (28). But the door was still open for Barber to come back -- perhaps as a nickelback, a fourth cornerback or a backup safety.
Barber looked at his options and decided to call it a career.
That’s the best way to end it for everyone involved. Barber gets to go out on top. The Bucs get to move forward without isolating one of the best players in franchise history.
The Bucs were fortunate to have Barber for 16 years. By ending things gracefully, they at least get to keep him on their good side for the long term.
In an ideal world, that’s how every NFL career should end.