Tiki Barber: Why He Deserves a Shot

Can Tiki Barber catch on with someone? That question was all over sports talk radio and the Internet today after Barber filed papers with the NFL to come out of retirement.

ESPN commentator Antonio Pierce, who played with Tiki for two years, had this to say yesterday afternoon on NFL Live: "If that's the guy you think you're bringing in, you might want to look another direction because from personal experience, he didn't do anything to help the Giants the last year, especially in 2006 when he decided to retire in the middle of the season. And then months later, kind of questioned our quarterback and ... our head coach at the time [Tom] Coughlin ... that's my problem with Tiki Barber."

The indignant tone in Pierce's outburst is (almost) understandable, but far from fair - and accurate.

Presumably, he meant that Barber announced his retirement in the middle of the season, since he played all 16 games, And if he really means that Tiki "didn't do anything to help the Giants the last year," he's nuts. In 2006 Barber had one of the great seasons of any running back in the NFL ever, gaining 1,662 yards, averaging over 5 yards a carry, and catching 58 passes. Does Pierce really believe the Giants would have done as well as 8-8 without Barber that season?

As for Tiki's criticism of head coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning, say that Barber was unfair only if you knew that the next year the Giants would catch fire in the last few games and go on the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. Because if you take 2007 out of the equation, Coughlin is perilously close to mediocre in his career, just 123-101 during the regular season and 0-3 in the post.

Eli? He's currently tied with Michale Vick for 23rd among active QBs in the NFL Passer rating. Without the fireworks that of the 2007 season and the incredible Super Bowl victory over New England - which is looking more and more like a fluke -- it's likely the Giants would be looking to replace him this or next season.

I have no idea whether Tiki can come back at age 36. Emmitt Smith was 34 when tried to string out his career for two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals; he averaged just 2.8 yards a carry in 2003, but did remarkably well the following seasons, rushing for 937 yards and 9 TDs. (He averaged just 3.5 yards a carry, but if the Cardinals had had any run blocking he certainly would have been closer to at least 4.)

But, a couple of things. First, while it's true Barber has lost four years, if he's in shape -- and he was always a conditioning fanatic -- that long layoff might work to his advantage by having saved his legs and torso from years of brutal contact of the kind that gives NFL running backs such a short shelf life.

Second, I'm fairly certain that Tiki isn't looking to be anyone's everyday back. Let's assume for the sake of argument that he's only looking for the kind of role with any team that LaDainian Tomlinson, age 31, had last year with the Jets, sharing the rushing duties with Shonn Greene. (He did a good job, too, gaining 914 yards averaging 4.2 yards a carry, and catching 52 passes.)

In addition to being one of the greatest running back of all time, Barber was also a terrific receiver, catching 586 balls in 154 games. If he's anywhere near the shape he looks to be, there's no reason why those talents couldn't help a team that thinks it's just one player away from a conference title. All I can for sure is that if it was my team, Tiki Barber would get a shot.


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