TAMPA, Fla. — For the third year in a row, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber did not advance beyond the semifinalist round of the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting. Maybe the Bucs’ lack of national relevance over the past decade plays a role. Maybe it’s because only 13 of the 326 Hall of Famers spent all or the majority of their careers at cornerback (16 players are listed as having played both cornerback and safety).
But Barber won’t get Hall of Fame recognition until football purists and decision-makers understand not only his unique role in the Tampa 2 defense but the value he brought to the nickelback position.
“He’s probably one of the best nickelbacks to play the game,” former Bucs position coach Herm Edwards said. “And he was a starting corner. A lot of people don’t realize that because we’d move him inside with three wide [receivers].”
Brother Tiki Barber, who played 10 years in the NFL, took it one step further.
“He revolutionized the position,” Tiki Barber said. “People don’t give him credit for it. He was 10 years ahead of his time. The nickel corner is the most important position on the football field these days. You’ve gotta be part linebacker, part cornerback, part rush player, and he did it with excellence.”
What is a nickelback?
Traditionally, the nickelback was the third and weakest cornerback on the team.
“We did it completely opposite,” said Ronde Barber, who was often used to blitz in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s zone pressures. “You needed kind of a cerebral, short-space, quick, tough guy to do it. That was me.”
The nickelback serves as a fifth defensive back — hence the word “nickel.” He’s responsible for covering wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. At times, he’ll be asked to rush the quarterback.
“That guy has to be versatile. He has to be able to blitz, he has to be able to tackle, he has to be able to cover — short and deep,” said Bucs cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who played in the NFL for 10 seasons and is in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame.
“I give Monte Kiffin a lot of credit here because he allowed me a chance to pioneer a position,” Ronde Barber said. “People took the nickel for granted for a lot of years prior. But he treated it like I was Derrick Brooks. I went to linebacker meetings. When they ran the ball, they expected me to make tackles. And it really came to define what Tampa 2 was. You didn’t have to put your weakest corner in there. You put your best corner in there and let him go make plays. I made a ton of plays.”
While the two outside corners can use the boundary to their advantage, the nickelback has more area to cover and has to play both inside and outside release, meaning he must not only be quick but mentally sharp, especially against slants, digs and post routes, where receivers are breaking in the middle of the field. Guess wrong and you give up a big play.
When you look at the recent cornerbacks being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 50 interceptions is the sweet spot.
“I’ve always said this — if you get 50 interceptions, you’ve got a really good chance getting in,” Edwards said.
“I think he should go,” former Bucs safety and Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson said. “When you look at the defense and the position he played and the way that he played it, he was the best. And that’s what it’s about. Who was the best at that time? And for the 15-, 16-year period, Ronde was the best at playing nickel corner. Yes, he played outside and made plays. Yes, he was outside covering the best receiver. Ronde was able to do all those things and still be successful.
Ty Law, who was inducted in 2019, had 53 interceptions. Champ Bailey, who was inducted in 2019, had 52. Ronde Barber came close with 47, but that’s right there with a pair of Hall of Famers — Jimmy Johnson, who had 47 with the San Francisco 49ers, and Mike Haynes, who had 46 with the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders.
But Ronde Barber did so much more than his peers at the position. He was the first and only NFL player to record at least 45 interceptions and 25 sacks (28 career sacks). His 197 career passes defensed are second most in NFL history behind only Bailey (203). Barber also registered 1,231 combined tackles (1,028 solo), 88 tackles for loss, 12 forced fumbles and 12 fumble recoveries.
By comparison, in 15 seasons, Law had 839 combined tackles (703 solo), 5.0 sacks, 169 passes defensed, 53 interceptions, seven touchdowns, seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. In 15 seasons, Bailey had 908 combined tackles (812 solo), 3.0 sacks, seven forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.
While Ronde Barber doesn’t have the 12 Pro Bowl selections of Bailey or the three Super Bowl rings of Law (Barber was a five-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2002), his longevity and toughness in the sport — not just how long he played but the fact that he rarely missed games — can’t be overlooked.
In 2002, he recorded an interception against Brett Favre with one hand the same week he had surgery on a broken thumb.
Ronde Barber told the doctor, “’You’ve got two days. I’m gonna practice on Wednesday,’” he said. “The hard part was that it was my left thumb and I was on the right side of the defense, so he was throwing into this hand, so I had to use my body and right hand [to make a one-handed interception]. But I found a way.”
He holds the record for most consecutive starts by a cornerback (209) and most consecutive starts by a defensive back with 215 (Ronde Barber switched to safety in 2012).
“When he got to 14 years, I’m like, ‘How the hell are you doing this?'” Tiki Barber said. “‘You’re 36 years old right now. How are you still playing?'”
Ronde Barber said, “I never wanted to see anyone else do my job.”
Tiki Barber believes a lack of understanding about his brother’s position has made it more challenging for him to garner respect.
“It’s a shame because people who don’t know football well enough are judging football,” Tiki Barber said.
“A lot of the people who try to [discredit] nickel corners are people who have never played the game,” Jackson said.
Ross sees value in what Ronde Barber did.
“The nickel is now a starting cornerback in the NFL. There are always three wide receivers out on the field. That guy, he’s no longer what you call your ‘third corner.’ He’s a starting corner in the NFL right now,” Ross said.
Many teams now list their starting defense with three cornerbacks instead of two, so the position is slowly generating more respect, which you can see with players like Chris Harris being voted to the Pro Bowl.
“They will,” Ronde Barber said. “They will eventually. They have to.”
D.J. Humphries to re-sign with Cardinals for 3 years, $45 million
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals have stability at left tackle for the next few years.
They re-signed left tackle D.J. Humphries to a three-year deal worth up to $45 million with $29 million guaranteed. The deal, which was first reported by NFL Network, includes $30 million that will be committed during the first two years, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Humphries, who’s coming off the fifth and final season of his rookie deal, was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2015, going 24th overall.
He didn’t play a snap his rookie season, battling a perception by former coach Bruce Arians, who drafted Humphries, that he was immature an lazy. Humphries has battled injuries throughout his career.
This past season was his first playing all 16 games. He had played double-digit games in just one other — 2016.
Humphries made $9.63 million last year in his option season.
Redskins TE Jordan Reed still in concussion protocol, almost 6 months after hit
Rivera told The Athletic about Reed’s status at a yard sale in Charlotte, North Carolina, to benefit the Humane Society of Charlotte on Saturday. It’s long been expected that Washington would eventually cut Reed, saving $8.5 million on the salary cap. He would count $10.3 million against the cap if he remained. Reed has two years left on his contract.
Reed, 29, missed all of last season because of the concussion, his seventh documented one since he started playing college football. But his career has been marked by multiple injuries; Reed has never played more than 14 games in a season.
Reed had struggled for two seasons because of ligament damage to his big toes, but he looked good in training camp this past summer. But in the third preseason game, Reed suffered a concussion after Atlanta safety Keanu Neal delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit. Reed nearly returned in Week 2, after getting cleared by the team. But after symptoms returned, an independent neurologist did not clear him. Reed did not practice after Sept. 12 and was put on injured reserve on Oct. 14.
The Redskins made Reed the focal point of their passing attack under former coach Jay Gruden. He responded with a big season in 2015 when he played a career-high 14 games. That season, Reed caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns — all personal bests.
After that season, the Redskins signed Reed to a five-year extension worth up to $46.75 million and he made his lone Pro Bowl after the 2016 season. But from 2016 to 2018, thanks to injuries, he averaged only 49 catches per season with a combined 10 touchdowns. He has 329 career receptions with 24 touchdowns.
Washington selected Reed in the third round out of Florida in the 2013 draft. He caught 45 passes in nine games as a rookie before injuries ended his season. Reed proved to be a mismatch for linebackers or safeties in particular, especially when aligned in the slot. The Redskins loved his ability to quickly win vs. a defender, making him an ideal target.
The Redskins have a definite need at tight end, with Reed likely out and Vernon Davis having retired. They visited recently with Greg Olsen.
The Redskins already have released two former starters: corner Josh Norman and receiver Paul Richardson. After those moves, the Redskins have approximately $54 million in salary-cap space.
Lions have spoken with teams about trading CB Darius Slay
The Lions have spoken with multiple teams about a trade involving Darius Slay, but Detroit will be adamant about what it will cost to acquire the Pro Bowl cornerback, a source told ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.
Conversations with teams include a new contract for Slay as part of the deal, Schefter reported. Slay, 29, is entering the final year of his contract in 2020.
Slay has been Detroit’s best defensive player and made three straight Pro Bowls.
Slay’s potential to be traded goes back to last year’s deadline, when Detroit dealt safety Quandre Diggs to Seattle. Slay was bothered by the move and said he knows that “nobody’s safe” from being traded.
“Anybody can go,” Slay said after the Diggs trade. “So that’s it. You know, at the end of the day, I just see it as there’s no loyalty to nothing. No matter how much you put in, they feel like it’s a little different, they can get rid of you. So I just play ball.”
At the time, he said he would be OK if he got traded and OK if he stayed in Detroit.
Slay has been open on social media about wanting to get a new contract and recently said on Twitter that $15 million to $16 million per year might be too low when a reporter suggested that could be a fair deal.
With the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft, Detroit could be a destination for corner Jeff Okudah out of Ohio State. But the Lions have long searched for a reliable No. 2 corner opposite Slay, and if they traded him, they would have two cornerback spots to fill.
Schefter reported that other teams believe Slay will be dealt this offseason. The Lions’ asking cost, though, will be something to watch.
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