At 36 and out of football for four years, Tiki Barber decided he needed football and launched a comeback this offseason.
The question is whether the NFL needs him.
What could help Barber is a league that might trust veterans more than rookies because of a lockout that robbed rookies the chance of working with coaches during the offseason. It also helps that most teams use two-back rotations that create openings for role-playing backs.
Barber’s name won’t be at the front of lists of free agents once the lockout ends, but let’s explore a few considerations for future employment.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: There wouldn’t be a chance if coach Mike Tomlin had a chance to work with 2010 sixth-round choice Jonathan Dwyer during the offseason to see if he’s ready to be Rashard Mendenhall’s backup. But Dwyer’s stock is as uncertain as it was at the end of last season. The Steelers would need a third-down back if Mewelde Moore leaves in free agency. An experienced playoff contender such as the Steelers might find Barber an intriguing option.
2. St. Louis Rams: The Rams need a backup running back to lighten the load for workhorse Steven Jackson. Even though coach Steve Spagnuolo didn’t join the New York Giants’ coaching staff until the year Barber retired, he knows Barber’s résumé and what he can do to fill out a backfield. Barber may not head the list of running back candidates for the Rams, but he could be discussed.
3. Miami Dolphins: Coach Tony Sparano has to decide if he can bring Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown back to the roster. Neither back, though, fills the role of pass-catcher. The Dolphins plan to remain a running team, so it wouldn’t hurt to have a veteran back with Barber’s experience in big games.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Once the lockout ends and contact between players and coaches resumes, twin brother Ronde Barber could be pushing the Bucs to add Tiki to the backfield. LeGarrette Blount has established himself as the early-down back. The team has to decide whether to bring back Cadillac Williams. Barber could be a fit behind Blount.
5. New England Patriots: No coach in football appreciates older backs as much as Bill Belichick. Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor are 35. Sammy Morris is 34. If Faulk retires or the Patriots don’t re-sign him, Faulk’s role in the Patriots’ backfield fits Barber’s skills.