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Barber's paycheck too small
By RICK STROUD
Published March 6, 2005
TAMPA - He is a company man, to be sure. Ronde Barber speaks his mind but rarely creates a ripple while others cause waves.
But at some point, the Bucs All-Pro will have to break his silence when it comes to fairness.
Just about every year, Tampa Bay officials have asked Barber to provide some salary cap relief by restructuring his contract.
That trend ended last season when Barber asked for something in return. He wanted the Bucs to consider giving him an extension, which they politely refused.
Now Barber, who turns 30 next month, must feel pretty underappreciated these days when he sees what's happening in the booming cornerback market.
In terms of average salary, Barber's $3-million per year ranked 27th among NFL cornerbacks when the free agent signing period began.
Barber has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him $3.75-million in 2005 and $3.5-million in '06. By making the Pro Bowl, Barber earned an additional $500,000 to his salary next season, which was supposed to be $3.25-million.
He is not alone. Brian Kelly, who averages $2,356,250 in salary, is the 34th highest-paid cornerback. And since 2002, only one other cornerback, the Dolphins Patrick Surtain, has more interceptions (17) than Kelly (13).
Just consider the list of cornerbacks who are paid more: Jason Webster, Al Harris, David Barrett, Reggie Howard, Fred Thomas, Daylon McCutcheon, Marcus Coleman, Chad Scott, Daune Starks, R.W. McQuarters and Will Peterson.
Not exactly household names.
How could Barber not notice when former USF and Browns free agent cornerback Anthony Henry received a $10-million signing bonus from the Cowboys or when Seattle's Ken Lucas got $13-million to sign with the Panthers?
A year ago, needing a cornerback, the Falcons targeted Webster, the 49ers free agent who had only played in five games in 2003 due to injuries. When other cornerbacks started disappearing, Atlanta desperately grabbed Webster and paid him a $7-million signing bonus. Once again, injuries limited Webster to just 10 games last season.
"Sometimes you violate your own rules," said Falcons general manager Rich McKay. "Was signing Webster so quickly a little bit of a panic move? Yeah, it was ... "
No one is suggesting the Bucs should pay for other team's mistakes. But if any Bucs player has a case for a raise, it's Barber. In 2001, when teams still challenged him, Barber tied for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions. When he moves to the slot on nickel situations, he's one of the best defensive weapons in football, a player who can blitz, tackle and cover with equal success.
So what happens when - or if - Barber approaches the Bucs for a new contract this off-season?
The problem is that general manager Bruce Allen dug his heels in last season during the Keenan McCardell holdout by proclaiming the Bucs don't re-negotiate contracts when a player has more than one season remaining. That is, of course, unless it benefits the team to demand a pay cut from a player like Mike Alstott.
Everybody knows about the Bucs' difficult salary cap situation. Allen has done a remarkable job putting the team in position to retain some of its own free agents, much less attract new talent.
"I feel much better about where it's going to be in '06," Allen said. "We're going to have to make some more moves, and as I've said, change some more contracts. We're comfortable. We know where we have room. But before utilizing that room, we want to know where we're going to spend it on. And until you have an agreement with a free agent, there's no reason to actually have the room."
Barber could provide the Bucs with more room under the salary cap. But first, the Bucs should offer to pay him what he's worth.