Barber or Burress?

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BARBER
BURRESS

In a limited role, Tiki can help

Yasinskas By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com
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When the topic -- would I rather sign Plaxico Burress or Tiki Barber? -- first was thrown out, my gut reaction was that I wouldn't touch either.

I thought about the why-nots -- Barber's 36, hasn't played in the NFL since the 2006 season and often was viewed as a negative influence in the New York Giants' locker room. Then I pondered it a little more and found myself still asking one question.

Why not sign Barber?

A lot of people thought Barber walked away too soon. He rushed for 1,860 yards in 2005 and 1,660 yards in 2006, the two highest totals of his career. He also caught 112 passes for 995 yards those two seasons.

Barber didn't limp away from the game with an injury, as so many running backs have. He just walked away and entered a career in broadcasting. That didn't work out, but Barber hasn't taken a hit in four years. His legs have had time to recover.

He also seems to be highly motivated to make this comeback, and there's little doubt he's in top shape. That's why I'd sign him with only a couple of conditions attached.

You can't expect Barber to come back and be what he was before. He can't be a featured back who gives you more than 300 carries and catches 50 passes a season.

If you make this move, the team -- and Barber -- need to understand that he's coming back as a situational player. Maybe he's a backup to a strong featured back, providing depth and keeping the starter's legs fresh.

Or maybe Barber's a third-down back. He always was effective in the passing game and probably could be at least as good as he was, if he focuses on just one thing.

Like I said, you can't expect Barber to be what he once was, and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's the Steelers, maybe it's the Bucs or maybe it's some other team. Someone needs to sign Barber. Used strictly as a role player, he can help a team. And if you ask him to be only a role player, there's not much room for him to hurt a team.

Pat Yasinskas is the NFC South blogger for ESPN.com.

Negatives are more manageable

Graziano By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com
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Plaxico Burress over Tiki Barber, and I don't get why it's even a question. I wouldn't take Tiki if I were drafting "Today" show alumni. Seriously, I'd trade down, pick Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric and take my chances.

Burress, I can find a use for. I don't think he's going to come in and be my No. 1 wideout. But I do know he's still huge, and I have no reason to doubt that he can still catch. And if I'm an NFL team with good receivers but without that big-bodied guy who can go up and outfight defenders for the ball in the end zone (looking at you, Eagles), I'm offering Burress a very specific job that has a chance to make him look good and help me get to the Super Bowl.

What need could Tiki Barber possibly fill? Barber hasn't played in four years and is only making this comeback because his plan to waltz directly from the NFL into TV stardom with no training or experience fell flat.

You want to compare sins? Burress' locker room sins were inwardly focused. Missing meetings, loafing in practice -- the kinds of things you can hold against a guy, sure, but not malicious. Not like what Tiki was up to in that Giants locker room. Burress was never guilty of trying to tear down others, only of being self-centered.

Even Burress' off-field sin -- the one that got him sent to prison -- was inexcusable but not malicious. He didn't set out to hurt anyone. Barber's off-field behavior since his retirement has only deepened his reputation as self-absorbed and blind to the reasons people dislike him.

When deciding on whether to sign a player, a team must ask what drives this person to whom it's about to commit a sum of money. Me, I'd much rather have the guy who just spent two years in prison getting angry and thinking somebody took something away from him than the washed-up TV personality who's worried people are going to forget about him. Any day of the week and (especially) twice on Sunday.

Dan Graziano is the NFC East blogger for ESPN.com.