Run to darkness: Barber comeback trail full of holes


I'm a sucker for a redemptive story. Beating the odds. Triumph of the human spirit. I have a soft spot for all of that stuff.

Unfortunately, I see scant potential for any of this in Tiki Barber's sudden comeback attempt. Can't see this one ending well. I'd put far better odds on Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, and Plaxico Buress making an impact in the NFL in 2011 (heck, I'd put better odds on JaMarcus Russell or LenDale White pulling off a comeback) than I would for Barber finding, making and sticking with an NFL club.

Signs of optimism are close to nil. Barber's motives for wanting back in the NFL after walking away from the game in 2007 at close to his peak form -- gripped by a series of self-inflicted personal and financial crises -- will be questioned across the league. His age and prolonged absence won't help. The haste with which the New York Giants, his team for his entire career, distanced themselves from Barber when news of his un-retirement broke Tuesday, spoke volumes. The equally speedy nature of the rebukes of Barber by former teammates, like Antonio Pierce, did just the same.

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Honestly, if this comeback attempt is still even ongoing come September, then color me surprised. With his media star fallen, I don't doubt Barber is now feverishly trying to whip himself into shape, with football providing a remaining possible revenue stream. But Barber is also savvy enough to know that the mere prospect of a return to football gets people talking about him, creates something of a buzz (and let's face it, with the league in a roster purgatory due to the ongoing CBA negotiations, and a ban on all transactions, no better time to re-launch the Barber brand). Given where he is coming from, that can't be a bad thing.

The cruel reality is, however, that this is a young man's game, particularly at his position, and the handful of execs and agents I spoke to about Barber all generally had the same reaction. "Good luck. He'll need it," as one front office person put it. Barber will be 36 when the 2011 season starts. That's 56 in running back years. He hasn't taken a hit in four years, so he's fresh, but he also hasn't taken a hit for four years, which puts him way out of playing shape.

He will not be more explosive for that time off. He won't be getting faster or better with age. And he happens to play a position in which youthfulness is vital. When it goes for a running back, it goes quickly, and very often completely. It didn't take long for Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander to go from All-Pro to out-of-work. Recall how limited the market was for LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook a year ago -- and those two are spry compared to Barber at this stage.

Consider: The oldest running backs in the NFL last season were 34 -- Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor, both of whom broke down. Barber has two years on them.

Also keep in mind the abundance with which running backs abound. Even in an era of heavy rotations and fewer feature backs, there are options everywhere. LaGarrette Blount and Arian Foster were undrafted free agents who went on to post big numbers. Value abounds in the middle rounds of the draft -- so much so that we hear less and less about backs going in the top 15 picks -- so the desire to pay a higher base salary (at the veteran minimum) to an older back with less upside simply is not there.

Throw in the issues about Barber off the field ... and the ripping of him by former teammates ... and some of his own media comments about former Giants coaches and players ... and the fact that at his age he will give you nothing on special teams -- none of this bodes well for him.

Don't get me wrong. Comebacks can be done. Michael Vick showed us that. And the depths he has managed to climb out of eclipses anything Barber faces. But he's also considerably younger and plays a different position and wasn't out of the game quite this long. Kurt Warner appeared to be done, and then rose again in Arizona. Guys like Tommy Maddox seemed to have their playing careers over, only to make it back at a level few if anyone would have expected.

But I keep coming up with quarterbacks. Everyone needs a quarterback, or three. They are always at a premium. There's a reason Jeff George gets his name out there every six months, thinking about giving this football thing another shot. It's because he's a quarterback.

Barber's best shot just might come in Tampa Bay. His twin brother, Ronde, continues to play cornerback at a strong level. Ronde is also quite close with Bucs coach Raheem Morris. Morris, however, was not exactly raving about the possibility on Wednesday, pointing out that he has a "young" team. If it's not the Buccaneers, though, I don't know where it will be.

If Barber pulls this off, then I'll be the first to tip a cap (helmet?) in his direction. He will have defied age, time, perception, market demand and seemingly everything else. He will have persevered despite being a figure that frankly has done quite little to engender much public or private support. Consider me a skeptic.

Six QBs in first round?

A few weeks ago I figured at least two quarterbacks would go in the top 10 of the draft. The closer we get to the draft, the more I think we will hear about two passers in the top three and three quarterbacks in the top half of the first round.

It tends to happen that way. Pro days are structured to allow the players to shine. Many of these kids have the awareness and charisma to earn praise on their personal visits to teams. And as we've always covered, the need for quarterbacks is always there.

Blaine Gabbert did very little at the combine and watched as other top quarterbacks began their pro day process. We will only hear more about Gabbert in the weeks to come and he could still end up going first overall. If that happens, I'm not sure Cam Newton slips past Buffalo picking third overall. And at that point someone could move up into the top 10 to take a quarterback, and the Redskins will be looking long and hard at them with that 10th pick as well. Arizona could be sufficiently motivated to take one in the top five.

And if we see a run early, perhaps five or six quarterbacks go in the first round overall. The demand is real and the supply, as always, is limited.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.



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