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Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber had been an unhappy camper dating back to the 2005 offseason.
Although he was the third-highest paid player on the team, Barber felt he deserved a new contract, one that rivaled some of the league’s top-paid cornerbacks.
Despite expressing his frustration with his contract, Barber didn’t get a new one from the Bucs until last week, when his agent, Ethan Lock and general manager Bruce Allen agreed to a five-year extension worth as much as $24 million, according to FoxSports.com.
Why did Allen finally budge on the contract extension Barber had been seeking for quite some time? The difference was that Barber, 31, was entering the final year of his contract. That’s when Allen typically has started to listen to players’ requests for new contracts.
With Barber locked up for the next several seasons, Allen has turned his attention toward signing several players that are entering the final year of their contracts to extensions. The list of free-agents-to-be includes quarterback Chris Simms, defensive end Dewayne White and punter Josh Bidwell.
However, Barber’s counterpart, CB Brian Kelly, told the St. Petersburg Times last week that he expects to be one of the next players in line for a new deal.
“I would hate for it to come a year from now,” Kelly told the Times regarding his contract extension. “The numbers are about the same (as Barber’s).”
Actually, Kelly might have to wait longer than next year to receive a new deal from the Bucs. He’s under contract with the team through the 2008 season, and given Allen’s policy regarding extensions, Kelly wouldn’t be considered a candidate to receive a new contract until the ’08 offseason, which is about a year and a half from now.
The Times’ article suggested ’08 was a “window dressing and was added to help with the Bucs’ salary cap,” but Pewter Report’s cap information doesn’t support such a notion.
Kelly, 30, has posted impressive numbers with Tampa Bay since entering the NFL with the Bucs as a 1998 second-round pick out of USC.
In eight seasons with the Bucs, Kelly has produced 389 tackles, 20 interceptions, 109 passes defensed and 3.5 sacks while defending the left side of Tampa Bay’s defense, which has ranked in the Top 10 for nine straight seasons.
By posting those numbers and helping the Bucs defense dominate, Kelly feels he deserves a new deal that would bring his salary closer to Barber’s and higher than 33rd in the NFL, which is where the Times’ stated Kelly currently ranks at his position in average salary.
While Kelly’s base salaries for the final three years of his contract are $2.4 million (2006), $2.6 million (2007) and $3.2 million (2008), it’s important to note that he received a $400,000 roster bonus in each of the past two offseasons and is scheduled to receive a $1 million roster bonus in each of the final two years of his contract.
Kelly also had the opportunity to trigger a $1.125 million escalator by recording five interceptions during the 2005 regular season, but he fell just short of that pay day by notching four picks in ’05.
Kelly once again has the chance to trigger the $1.125 million escalator by recording five interceptions during the 2006 regular season.
While he might not rank that high in terms of average pay rate at his position in the NFL, Kelly will be the sixth highest-paid player on the Bucs in 2006 behind only defensive end Simeon Rice, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks and defensive lineman Ellis Wyms.
Kelly has played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level over the past several seasons, but he has yet to be voted to the Pro Bowl. Barber, on the other hand, has been voted to three Pro Bowls during his career, including two over the last two seasons, cemented his name in NFL history by becoming the first cornerback to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career, and is just four interceptions away from breaking the franchise record held by Donnie Abraham.
The Bucs currently are $5.6 million under the league-mandated salary cap, but they have no plans to enter contract negotiations with Kelly’s agent, Gary Uberstine.
What makes this situation even more interesting is the fact that Uberstine also represents former Bucs wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who held out for a new contract in 2004 before eventually being traded away to the San Diego Chargers.
At the time of his holdout, McCardell had two years remaining on his contract. Despite the fact that the Bucs were in need of having McCardell on their roster at that time, Allen refused to negotiate with Ubserstine.
More bad blood between Allen and Ubserstine exists from the grievance Uberstine filed against the Bucs on behalf of former Tampa Bay tackle Derrick Deese, who was released by the team in August of 2005. Uberstine felt Deese was entitled to an injury settlement, but the Bucs claimed their doctors had cleared Deese to play. A final ruling on that grievance has not yet been delivered.
Had Allen given in to the demands of Uberstine and McCardell, the floodgates likely would have opened with several other players, including Barber and Kelly, lining up outside the door of Allen’s office to demand new contracts as well.
By refusing to give McCardell a new contract, trading him away and filing and winning a grievance against him to retrieve half of his original signing bonus, Allen made a strong statement, one that prevented Barber from holding out for a new deal and one that should serve as a deterrent should Kelly think about following in McCardell’s footsteps.
If Kelly does decide to hold out for a new contract in 2007, the Bucs are prepared. They have Barber, Juran Bolden and Alan Zemaitis under contract for the next several seasons. While they would like Kelly to retire a Buccaneer one day, just as Barber and Brooks have been given the opportunity to do with their latest contracts, the Bucs aren’t going to give Kelly a new deal when he still has three seasons remaining on it. If they did, several players, including wide receiver Joey Galloway, who is scheduled to earn $1.66 million in base salary in 2006 and is under contract through 2009, likely would be demanding new deals.
If Kelly decides to make his own statement by holding out for the deal he feels he deserves, he might eventually receive the contract he longs for. But like McCardell, Kelly likely would have to receive that new deal from another team because the Bucs likely won’t give it to him until he enters the final year of his contract.
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