Ronde Barber: Innovator, Revolutionary, Hall of Famer?

Ronde Barber will no longer run the flag out for Tampa. (Credit)

Last week, in the course of 48 hours, both football worlds of the Glazer family were rocked upside down with the retirements of the people that most embody the teams they own.

Admittedly, to say they were turned upside down would be an exaggeration, with hindsight seeming to suggest both decisions had been lined up for some time. Although I'm sure the Glazers, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United, would have preferred not to be twisting and turning themselves over both sides of the Atlantic with the public announcements happening simultaneously.

Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement will have an immediate fundamental impact on both Manchester United and the landscape of English and World football. Meanwhile, Ronde Barber's decision to call it 16 and out in Tampa leaves a huge emotional hole at One Buc Place and has people asking:

"Is he Hall of Fame bound?"

The stats are there, albeit that most are garnered through longevity, something that is consistently looked upon, wrongly, as a negative in comparison to the short-term 'All-World' player.

For all the Pro-Bowls, All-Pro teams, start records, and interceptions, there are two stats that found the basis of the reasons that Barber should go into Canton. They are his record number of sacks for a cornerback with 28 (his biggest regret is not making 30) and a record number of tackles for the position with 1,428.

We all know that "tackles" is a contentious stat in the NFL and as a former stats man, I am fully aware of how impossible it is for people to agree with tackle totals, but the sheer weight of numbers (over a thousand more than Deion Sanders) allies me to my point. Ronde Barber should not be in the Hall because of his cornerback play, but for evolving, some would say even creating, the nickel corner position singlehandedly.

Before Barber came into the league, the nickel corner was simply the third best corner on the roster, used purely to defend a third wide receiver. Along with Monte Kiffin's "Tampa 2," Barber turned it into a position for a corner who could blitz and tackle like a linebacker, cover like a corner, and understand the angles and dimensions of the field between the numbers to cover over the middle.

Barber was so unique at this that even when he became a starting corner in 1999, when the Bucs went into a nickel package, the third corner would play outside and Barber would play the nickel. In some ways, he invented the type of position needed to cope with the modern tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham before they even came along.

Before Barber moved to safety last season, fans proposed a move to linebacker, as he was already the best tackling corner in the modern game. He managed 12 defensive touchdowns in his career, one fewer than Hall of Famers Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper, and he spent less time in coverage than they did. That’s even without counting his 92-yard pick six that sent the Bucs to Super Bowl XVII, voted by premier Buccaneers website BUCPOWER.com as the greatest play in team history.

Barber’s longevity may count against him. By the time he is eligible to have a bust in Ohio, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and possibly even John Lynch might already be in, and having four members of a defense that won just one championship might worry voters.

But if for no other reason than the way he revolutionized interior cornerback play, Barber deserves to be heralded as the most important defensive back in the first decade of this millennium.

By: Steve Moore
Twitter: @Steve_Moore1988

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