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Despite having Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Juran Bolden back for another season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely will draft a cornerback this weekend.

The 5-foot-10, 184-pound Barber is 31 years old and entering the final year of his contract, which he isn’t happy with. Despite being unhappy with his current deal, Barber opted not to hold out for a new one last year and turned in a Pro Bowl season, recording 120 tackles, two sacks, a team-high five interceptions and 22 passes defensed.

Barber’s agent, Ethan Locke, told Pewter Report earlier this offseason that he had not heard from the Buccaneers regarding his client’s contract, which suggests the two sides have not discussed an extension for Barber.

Even if Tampa Bay is willing to sign him to an extension, Barber is said to be intrigued by becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2007 because of his desire to play with his twin brother, Tiki, in New York.

Tampa Bay has Kelly (5-11, 193) and Bolden (6-3, 210) under contract beyond the 2007 season, but both players are getting older as well.

Kelly, who recorded 60 tackles and four interceptions in 2005, is 30, but like Barber, he’s still playing at an exceptionally high level.

Bolden turns 32 in June. He is viewed more as a nickel corner than a starter at this stage in his career. Bolden notched 42 tackles and two interceptions while solidifying the defense’s nickel corner job in his first year with the Bucs.

With Barber about to embark on what could be his final year in Tampa Bay, the Bucs likely will use one of their 10 draft picks on a cornerback this weekend.

Some believe Tampa Bay will invest its first-round pick (No. 23 overall) on a corner like Clemson’s Tye Hill, South Carolina’s Jonathan Joseph or Florida State’s Antonio Cromartie, but there’s no guarantee the Bucs will go in that direction with their first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

This draft is deep at the cornerback position, which is good news for the Bucs, who have shown a keen eye for cornerback talent in the latter part of the first day of the draft over the past several years.

The Bucs used their third-round pick to draft Donnie Abraham, Barber and Dwight Smith in the 1996, 1997 and 2001 NFL Drafts, respectively. The team landed Kelly with its 1998 second-round selection.

First-day options in the second and third rounds include Richard Marshall (Fresno State), Kelly Jennings (Miami of Florida), DeMario Winter (Georgia), Ashton Youboty (Ohio State) and Dee Webb (Florida).

Penn State cornerbacks Anwar Phillips and Alan Zemaitas, Kansas’ Charles Gordon, and Maryland’s Gerrick McPhearson are options in rounds 4-5.

Late-round candidates include Antonio Malone (Toledo), Justin Wyatt (USC) and John Walker (USC).

In addition to Barber, Kelly and Bolden, Tampa Bay also has Torrie Cox (5-9, 181), Blue Adams (5-10, 184), James Patrick (5-11, 175) and Dwight Ellick (5-10, 182) on its offseason roster.

Of those players, Adams and Patrick have shown the most promise, but both will need to make a significant impact on special teams in order to secure active roster spots in 2006.

There’s a chance Cox, who lost his job as a kick returner and has failed to step up on defense, might not even make it to training camp due to some of the off-the-field issues he’s been dealing with over the past year and a half.

Current Position Grade: A-

Bucs Update Publishing Schedule
April 27 – Safeties
April 28 – Kickers/Punters

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