It’s draft week.
Aside from the first week of Bucs training camp, this may be the busiest week of the year for myself and my fellow Pewter Reporters.
I have a section dedicated to the Bucs’ draft plans (or what I think the Bucs draft plans might be) in Fab 2, but because PewterReport.com’s draft coverage began last September during college football season and has continued during the entire offseason I’m itching to talk about something else. The draft can’t get here fast enough. While I’m looking forward to it with great anticipation, I also want it to be over.
Having said that, I’ve decided to lead off this SR’s Fab 5 column with a former Bucs legend and a person that is near and dear to my heart. My favorite Buccaneer of all-time and one of the top 5 players in franchise history, the one and only Ronde Barber – and my quest to get him inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After you read this column, I want you to Tweet out #Ronde4HOF today to help all of the sportswriters and Hall of Fame voters out there understand that Barber needs to be discussed, debated and his name needs to be at the forefront of those who take part in the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame voting process. Now on to this week’s SR’s Fab 5.
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. BARBER HAD A HALL OF FAME CAREER FOR THE BUCCANEERS
The next Buccaneer to been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame won’t be safety John Lynch, who split his career between Tampa Bay and Denver.
It will be legendary cornerback Ronde Barber, who is eligible for the Hall of Fame voting for the first time this year.
But don’t expect Barber to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame this year. Most don’t think he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer like defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks were.
“It’s kind of a short list of first-ballot guys,” said former Bucs defensive back Dwight Smith, who played with Barber from 2001-04. “There’s no knock to not being on the first ballot. When you are the only one to do something or the first one to do something like Ronde was, and when you are talking about the 28 sacks and the 47 interceptions, it speaks for itself. I don’t know that he’ll be on the first ballot, but if he doesn’t make it in, then what is a Hall of Famer?”
Barber wasn’t the caliber of player that Sapp and Brooks were, but he’s a lot closer to those two than Lynch was. How could that be you might ask, considering Lynch posted 1,058 tackles, 26 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and 13 sacks, while making nine Pro Bowls?
Lynch has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for the last four years and was a semi-finalist the last two, competing with former Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins. What makes it difficult for Lynch to get in is the fact that there are only 11 true safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Emlen Tunnell (1948-61), Jack Christiansen (1951-58), Yale Lary (1952-53, 1956-64), Willie Wood (1960-71), Larry Wilson (1960-72), Mel Renfro (1964-77), Paul Krause (1964-79) Ken Houston (1967-80), Kenny Easley (1981-87), Ronnie Lott (1981-94) and Rod Woodson (1987-2003), who played cornerback and safety.
Only two safeties that played in the 1990s – Lott and Woodson – and only one that played in the 2000s – Woodson – have been enshrined into the Hall of Fame in recent years. Easley just got selected for the Hall of Fame this past February and he’s been retired for 30 years.
“That safety position is tough,” Smith said. “When outside people think of defensive backs the first thing they think about is interceptions, and we know Lynch didn’t have many of those. The one thing I know about the NFL and the Hall of Fame is they are always looking for somebody to compare you to. And if they can’t find anybody to compare you to you are left out.”
Lynch’s 26 interceptions don’t compare favorably to that of Easley’s 32, and certainly aren’t close to Lott’s 63 picks or Woodson’s 71 career picks.
Even Dawkins has superior numbers to Lynch with nine Pro Bowl appearances, 1,131 tackles, 37 interceptions, 36 forced fumbles, 26 sacks and two defensive touchdowns as a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, of which Lynch is not a member.
I really like Lynch and believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, but it may only come years down the road after his contributions to San Francisco as the team’s new general manager help boost his stock – if the 49ers are successful. I think Dawkins makes it in before Lynch even though Dawkins doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring and Lynch does.
But let’s focus on Barber’s case, which would be helped if he were to be enshrined into the Bucs Ring of Honor later this year as I suspect he’s next for that honor. An announcement could come in the next few weeks.
In an effort to boost Lynch’s chances of making the Hall of Fame the Glazers selected Lynch to be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor the same year that he was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Honor. I believe the Glazers will try that tactic with Barber and affix his name to Raymond James Stadium permanently this year.
Barber is a shoo-in for the Bucs Ring of Honor, but how about the Hall of Fame? I had a recent conversation with Ira Kaufman, who holds the Hall of Fame vote representing Tampa Bay, and he believes Barber could face an uphill climb to Canton, Ohio based on recent conversations with other Hall of Fame voters.
Kaufman has been an ineffective 0-for-4 in his bid to get Lynch into the Hall of Fame after assisting in Tony Dungy getting enshrined in Canton. Kaufman pitched Sapp and Brooks to the committee, but truth be told, Kaufman didn’t have to do much persuading. The careers of both Sapp and Brooks screamed first-ballot Hall of Famers – they were slam dunks.
In reality, Kaufman should have an easier time presenting Barber’s candidacy because he’s simply a much better candidate with several things working for him. First is longevity. Barber, a third-round draft pick in 1997, played 16 years in Tampa Bay where he recorded 1,028 tackles, 166 pass deflections, had 47 interceptions, 28 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and scored 14 touchdowns – 12 of which came on defense.
Barber was a five-time Pro Bowler (2001, 2004-06, 2008), a three-time first-team All-Pro (2001, 2004, 2005) and a two-time second-team All-Pro (2002, 2006), in addition to being a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, which is of great importance to the Hall of Fame voters. Barber also led the league in interceptions in 2001 with a career-high 10.
Like Lynch, Barber was a part of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl XXXVII championship team, but the twin brother of Tiki Barber has three unique things that separate him from his Buccaneer brethren and quite frankly every other cornerback that will be considered for a hallowed place in Canton, Ohio.
My friend Kaufman needs to take some notes.
The first unique fact is that Barber was the first cornerback to make the 40-20 club in terms of interceptions (47) and sacks (27). Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson just recently joined that elite club in his seventeenth season in the NFL as he reached 20 sacks to go along with his 65 interceptions. Yet bump it up five more spots and Barber becomes the only cornerback with at least 45 interceptions and 25 sacks – a unique position in the NFL for a cornerback.
“It’s going to be debated,” said former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, who played with Barber from 2001-05. “But his numbers say what they say, and he played a long time. On that alone, yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer. The fact that he played so long and he was able to accomplish what he was able to accomplish, you have to put him in. With the defense that he was in and what he was asked to do, you have to say that he was able to do some awesome stuff and become a special player. If you look at Russell Westbrook and what he is able to do – that’s Ronde, especially playing corner. He has all these unique statistics. How many sacks did he have? He had more sacks than some defensive linemen in the Hall of Fame. You have to look at him as a football player. I know he wasn’t beating somebody off the edge – he was blitzing – but being able to get there? Name another cornerback with that many sacks. And there were timely sacks, too – on third downs.
“Ronde had a unique set of numbers. You can’t ignore them. Well, you shouldn’t. To his detractors or people that don’t want to legitimize him, they shouldn’t. The Hall of Fame is about having a special career, right? That’s what it’s about. It’s not about being the best corner that ever played because those guys get in. It’s about having a Hall of Fame career. It’s about having Hall of Fame numbers. If he doesn’t get in, it’s personal then. The numbers are the numbers. The numbers don’t lie. He has the numbers to get in.”
Barber also had a signature play that defined his career – the 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship Game that sent Tampa Bay to its first and only Super Bowl. The Bucs had lost two straight playoff games at Veterans Stadium in Philly in 2000 and 2001, but Barber’s play was the dagger through the heart of the Eagles, who closed down the Vet for good in with a loss to Tampa Bay in the final game.
The pick-six was classic Barber, who was one of the smartest players in Tampa Bay history. Barber, who had sacked Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb earlier in the game on a nickel blitz, had showed blitz during McNabb’s pre-snap read inside Tampa Bay’s red zone but backed out of it at the last minute after McNabb audibled. Barber’s film study showed that when given that blitz look McNabb would audible to a quick slant behind the blitzing nickel cornerback.
The only problem for McNabb is that Barber didn’t blitz and instead jumped the slant, picked off the pass and turned in the most important play in franchise history.
“That’s a play that he should play at the Hall of Fame,” Smith said. “It epitomized his career. He was always at the right place at the right time and when he got the ball in his hands he was trying to score with it. That’s the type of head games he would play. Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp – if one of them three didn’t know the play before it was run then it was a play that had never been run before. Playing with those three guys made playing football very easy.”
So Barber deserves a gold jacket like Sapp and Brooks, right?
“You heard the three guys I named, right?” Smith said. “When I first got to the NFL I didn’t know what studying film was. My thing in college was to find out what a team ran on third down and get ready to sit down for a curl route on third down. I got in the league and learned about film study because of Ronde Barber. I wanted to understand how a guy that wasn’t as physically gifted as I was, that couldn’t run as fast as me, would be in the right place all the time. Ronde taught me how to study film.”
That’s the type of play that few Hall of Fame candidates – even Lynch and Dawkins – don’t have on their highlight reels.
“He not only had interceptions, but timely interceptions,” Rice said. “Interceptions that iced games. He took us to the Super Bowl by icing the game for us in the NFC Championship Game with that pick-six. He had so many pick-sixes. That’s a Ronde thing – taking it to the house. He was a playmaker. That’s the one thing about Ronde – he was a playmaker.”
Barber has the unique stats, the accolades, the Super Bowl championship and the signature play, but there is still one more point that needs to be made to the Hall of Fame voting committee. Barber wasn’t a Cover 2 system cornerback – he was a unique cornerback.
In base defense Barber would play right cornerback in Monte Kiffin’s defense and then move inside to nickel cornerback on third downs or obvious passing downs and play a completely different position – seamlessly.
Stylistically, was he that match-up corner – that nightmare corner? No, and that’s what [Hall of Fame voters] might look at,” Rice said. “But to a football team, he was a complete football player. He wasn’t the prototypical, 6-foot-2 cornerback that some were looking for but he would still come up and hit you. He didn’t have that smallness that some cornerbacks played with. In our defense, he was a run supporter and a blitzer. He was a complete player.”
Rice said the “system cornerback” label that some have placed on Barber is nonsense.
“The detractors are going to detract,” Rice said. “You can speak to them, but they are there to detract. Ronde was an unbelievable football player. I know this is about the Hall of Fame and you’re speaking to a body of people that is judging you on merits that they are not stimulated by because if you look at the numbers – he has unique numbers. He was a quasi-linebacker, a quasi-safety playing inside and a quasi-corner. He represented so much as a player for us.”
Barber revolutionized playing cornerback and not a lot of players can make that claim.
Barber was a revolutionary player that became the prototype nickel cornerback in the NFL much the way that Brooks became the prototype coverage linebacker and helped break through a Hall of Fame voting process that previously favored sacks from linebackers and not interceptions. Barber shouldn’t just be judged on his interceptions. Judge the dude on his sacks because they are a vital statistic, too. Just ask any defensive lineman or linebacker trying to make the Hall of Fame.
“It’s funny you bring that up because Warren Sapp was at my house yesterday and I don’t remember which year it was but five or six games into the season Ronde was leading the team in sacks,” Smith said. “He went back and watched those third downs and there was a whole bunch of Ronde blitz calls. When you have a guy like that who is a special blitzer, you get a little trigger-happy because you know if Ronde gets a one-on-one with a back he’s going to beat him. The guy was a talent.”
That year was 2000 when Barber had 4.5 of his career-high 5.5 sacks in the first month of the season and did lead Tampa Bay in sacks into October. Barber made blitzing out of the slot look cool and easy and redefined the importance of the role of the nickel cornerback in the process.
“There are defensive tackles in the Hall of Fame that don’t have as many sacks as Ronde Barber, do you know what I mean?” Rice said. “I’m going to leave it at that because that’s real.”
Tampa Bay played nickel defense just over 50 percent of the time in Barber’s early years, but as the NFL has transformed into more and more of a passing league that figure has climbed to nearly 70 percent in recent years. In a day and age of match-up football more and more teams are placing greater significance on finding a great nickel cornerback that has the talent to support the run game as a quasi-linebacker and the ability to cover big tight ends off the line and down the seam, and small, quick receivers in the slot, too.
That’s why a player like Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu is so valuable to the Cardinals defense, and why Washington safety Budda Baker, whose game has been compared to that of Barber’s, will likely find his way into the late first round in the 2017 NFL Draft.
“Everybody refers to Ronde as the original nickel corner, and he was,” Smith said. “People don’t understand how smart he was as a football player with him being able to read keys and tendencies. That’s what you need at that position. It takes a lot of film study and preparation and toughness, and he made it look easy.
“People don’t really remember but that’s how we started the Super Bowl. We were in nickel. That was the type of game Oakland ran. They wanted to get Rice, Brown and Porter on the field at the same time. Most of the days these tight ends aren’t true tight ends. They’re big receivers and you have to put somebody on the field who can match up. That nickel position is becoming more and more important. Ronde started it all.”
Barber wasn’t the first nickel cornerback, but he was the first star nickel cornerback.
Back in the day it was the third-best cornerback on the depth chart that was brought in when needed. Barber’s greatness changed the way teams think about the importance of the nickel position into the modern day.
That’s a point Kaufman needs to drive home, and given his swings and misses with Lynch, I have my concerns that he will properly position Barber to make it to the Hall in 2019 or 2020 after his name appears on the ballot for the first time in 2018 alongside the likes of first-ballot guys like linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, wide receiver Randy Moss.
Barber wasn’t a system guy. He was the prototype for the Cover 2 – or Tampa 2 as the Bucs famously called their scheme. Barber never came off the field, playing outside on first and second down and moving inside on third downs. Today’s nickel corners rarely do that, as they are more or less nickel defense specialists.
Barber wasn’t a specialist. He was just plain special.
“Break it down like this, ask any cornerback if they would like to have Ronde’s numbers?” Rice said. “Yes, they would, because those are unbelievable numbers. Do you know what hypes that up to the umpteenth power? Media. If the media celebrated everything he did he’d be in. The media is what makes the numbers sing. If he played in New York and did that, without a doubt he would get in. If he played in Chicago and did that, no doubt he’d be in. We were a small market team, but we did big market stuff. Nonethless, he should be able to enjoy the spoils of his career. He should get all of the things due to him, but sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“I’m one of them. Look at me, I’m one of five players that averaged double-digit sacks – Bruce Smith, Reggie White, L.T. (Lawrence Taylor) Leslie O’Neal and myself. Me and L.T. averaged the same amount of sacks in our career, but I’m the one who can’t get in. I’ve got 100-plus sacks and the Super Bowl [win] but all that stuff doesn’t matter. [The Hall of Fame committee members] come up with all these narratives, do you know what I mean? ‘He was a system corner’ they say. Maybe, but look at the unique numbers and he played the longest of all of us. What makes you relevant is the things you do on the field, and that’s making plays – that and a very long career. I know people that did less that are in the Hall of Fame.”
It won’t be long before Barber’s name is announced for the Bucs Ring of Honor. His enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame should soon follow – if the case can be presented properly.