I'll start with a bold prediction (it'll actually be in regular type). This is Ronde Barber's last year in Tampa.
Here's a stat, courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Fantasy Football issue. No corner in the NFL was burned more last season than Barber. He gave up eight touchdowns in coverage in 94 targets, which gives him a burn percentage (SI's term) of 8.5 percent.
There are more reasons to worry. Age is a factor, naturally. Barber will be 34 on opening day. Plus, new defensive coordinator Jim Bates favors man-to-man coverage, which isn't Barber's forte.
Barber is Tampa Bay's last link to the Super Bowl. He'll try not to go quietly. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if, by midseason, Barber was a third-down nickel back and on his way out the door.
Here's my take on Michael Vick (and I know you've been waiting to hear what I have to say about it). Our society allows those who serve jail time the opportunity to reclaim their lives. Vick went to prison, paid his debt and should be allowed the opportunity to make a living in the NFL. Should the NFL make it easy on him? No. Say what you want about the extension of Michael Vick's original 2007 suspension (which is essentially what commissioner Roger Goodell's post-prison ruling amounts to), but Vick must show real contrition and a real commitment to turning his life around. And until Goodell is satisfied, he should be hard on him. Let's not forget that Vick lied to Goodell when the commissioner asked him about the dog-fighting allegations.
But, one thing. Let's stop talking about what Vick did in terms of the worst crime ever perpetrated on mankind by a football player. I think what Vick did was heinous, but it is not as bad as what Rae Carruth, Leonard Little and Donte Stallworth did. Each took a human life by murder (Carruth) and drunk driving (Little and Stallworth).
Having rolled up my sleeves alongside Stephen (and his co-writer, Rick Stroud), I can tell you they did everything they could to get the story. The fact that they didn't, and that there are more questions now than ever before about Sears' status, underscores the seriousness of whatever is going on.
I hope this isn't the end of Sears' time in Tampa Bay. I found him likable, quiet and quite professional in the locker room. But if he's not in Tampa by training camp, the Bucs' best option would be to put Sears on the reserve-did not report list, a pathway that would at least allow the Bucs to keep him while he works out his off-field issues.
Mark my words — the Bucs will regret not pursuing another wide receiver in free agency. Michael Clayton won't cut it as a No. 2 receiver. This team will rely too much on an injury-prone Kellen Winslow and Antonio Bryant's production will drop to around 55 catches. There's no one scary enough on the opposite side of Bryant to scare defenses out of double coverage. And there's no one scary enough behind center to make me think Bryant is going to be all-world for a second straight season.
I don't buy the idea of "addition by subtraction" in Dallas. Sure, Terrell Owens is gone and so is that distraction. But the only receiver on that team capable of holding Owens' jock is the guy he verbally sparred with last year, TE Jason Witten. Sure, Tony Romo's mind is free. But that doesn't change the fact that the entire wide receiving corps is average, at best.
I'm interested to see how rookie QB Josh Freeman holds up the first week of training camp (assuming he shows up on time). Say this for former Bucs GM Bruce Allen — he got everyone signed before camp started. Nary a holdout on his watch.
The Bucs talk of Freeman as if he will one day be this team's leader. I'll be watching to see if he's a natural-born leader, or if he's someone that will have to grow into the part. We recently talked about which QB should be the starter on opening day against Dallas. Scout.com and Bucsblitz.com experts chimed in. Here's the link to read up.
I think moving training camp to One Buc Place is a bad idea. Sure, the facility is fantastic and I'm sure there are some logistical advantages to having camp in Tampa. But the Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando was just fine, the fans were great and the players seemed to enjoy it (at least that's what they always said). The ones who really love this move? Tampa-area newspapers and TV stations who just saved thousands of dollars in hotels, meals and expenses spending three weeks in Orlando. I just think the team will miss out on the bonding that training camp away from home provides. And it's going to be a pain in the butt for fans.
My sneaky starter on defense? Quincy Black at strong side linebacker. He's ready. And Bates has one thing in common with his predecessor, Monte Kiffin. They both love quick linebackers. Black is quite rapid.
My last non-Bucs entry this week? If WR Chad Ochocinco keeps his mouth shut (yeah, fat chance) and stops acting up, he should have a bounce-back year. Despite not having QB Carson Palmer last year, Johnson led the league in percentage of total catches in the red zone (20.8 percent, 11 of 53 catches inside the 20). I'd love to add him as a WR3 in my fantasy league. He's still a great target.
My last Bucs entry? The Bucs finally caved and agreed to wear the old Florida orange jerseys this season. Not let's do it right and sign Lee Roy Selmon for one game and put him opposite DE Gaines Adams. Something tells me Selmon can still hold his own.
Matthew Postins, a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, is a Bucsblitz.com contributor. He has covered the Bucs since 2004.