Tampa Bay Buccaneers five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber has decided to take what could amount to a victory lap in 2012.
Barber, an unrestricted free agent who has spent the last three months contemplating retirement, agreed to terms Wednesday on a one-year contract that will bring him back to the Bucs for a 16th season.
Financial terms of Barber's 2012 contract were not immediately available, but Barber said in a text message to the Tribune that his decision to return for another season was based on one simple desire.
"I want to win," he said.
Barber's decision comes in the wake of a series of meetings with rookie head coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominik in which the team made it clear it wanted Barber back but agreed to let him decide his fate on his terms.
"Coach Schiano, Mark and the Glazer family (which owns the Bucs) have been terrific throughout this process,'' Barber said in a statement released by the team. "I'm really excited about the direction of the team, the moves we've made, and I can't wait to get back to work."
The decision comes less than a week after the Bucs spent more than $140 million in free agency to secure the services of two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, two-time Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright.
Combined with the signing of Wright to a five-year, $37.5 million contract, Barber's decision further solidifies a position that could have become dangerously thin this offseason.
In addition to possibly losing Barber, the Bucs have also been wrestling with the possible loss of fellow 2011 starting cornerback Aqib Talib, who will stand trial on a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon in Texas on April 16.
The charge, which stems from an incident in which Dallas police allege Talib pistol whipped and fired shots at his sister's boyfriend, carries a punishment of five to 20 years in prison and could result in a league-mandated suspension for Talib.
With Barber and Wright on board, though, the Bucs will have at least two starting-caliber corners on their roster and there is still a chance they could add to that with their first pick, fifth overall, in the draft.
The Bucs are expected to at least consider the possibility of taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with that fifth overall draft pick, but the return of Barber could lead them in another direction, and it had teammates excited as well.
"Man I'm so glad Ronde (is) coming back,'' second-year defensive end Da'Quan Bowers said in Twitter post. "That's a great attribute to our organization not only on the field but off as well.''
Barber, who will turn 37 on April 7, has 43 career interceptions and 27 career sacks, making him the only player in NFL history to have 40 or more interceptions and 25 or more sacks in a career.
He also has 1,337 career tackles, which ranks second in team history behind linebacker Derrick Brooks, and his 11 touchdowns on fumble or interception returns ranks fifth in NFL history.
Having started ever game since Week 10 of the 1999 season, Barber is riding a 199-game starting streak that is the longest active starting streak in the NFL and the longest such streak by a cornerback in NFL history.
Barber is also the only defensive back in the NFL since the 1970 merger to start each of his team's games for 12 consecutive seasons and during his 16 starts last year, he was arguably the Bucs most consistent defender.
He produced 77 tackles (fourth most on the team), a sack and three interceptions before suffering a broken arm in the last game of the season against Atlanta.
Barber became the third free agent Bucs starter to re-up with the team, joining left guard Jeremy Zuttah and left defensive end Michael Bennett, but his decision didn't come as much of a surprise to the Bucs.
Barber has often expressed a desire to play his entire career in Tampa, and Schiano has made it clear in recent weeks that he was confident Barber would return to a team with which he has become part of the fabric.
"Here's a guy who's a Buc,'' Schiano said recently. "No doubt about it. It's in his blood and I know he wants to do the best for (him) and his family, but I know he puts the Bucs right there with them, too.''