Blog Entry

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

Posted on: June 20, 2011 5:30 pm
Edited on: June 20, 2011 5:46 pm

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The three most talked about players in recent weeks -- Terrelle Pryor, Plaxico Burress and now Tiki Barber -- combined for exactly zero yards, zero touchdowns and zero games played last NFL season. Or the one before that. In fact, only Burress has seen an NFL field at all since 2007; Barber retired in 2006, and Pryor was in college until he had a sudden change of heart earlier this month.

All three are looking to get (back) into the league, and all appear to face long odds. To varying degrees, they come with baggage, and Burress and Barber are on the wrong side of 30. Our focus here is on Barber since Sports Illustrated's Peter King mentioned him in his latest Monday Morning Quarterback column.

Specifically, King spins the Wheel of Educated Guesses on possible Barber landing spots this summer, and it came up Pittsburgh.

Let's breakdown King's reasoning line by line:

"The Steelers have a head coach the Barber family knows well -- Mike Tomlin is close to twin Ronde Barber after coaching him in Tampa from 2001 to 2005 and also knows Tiki."

Tomlin also knows Michael Vick well; they both grew up in Newport News, Va. And you know what? When Vick was released from prison and was mounting a return to the NFL, the media connected the dots, and rumors of a Tomlin-Vick reunion followed. Vick eventually signed with the Eagles.

In August 2009, Tomlin told NFL Network's Deion Sanders why the Steelers didn't pursue Vick.

"I spent some time with Mike this summer. Mike's from my hometown, I've known Mike a long time," Tomlin said. "It was bigger than business for me. There were gangs and so forth when I grew up there, but when you played ball, you played ball. It was different. They respected what you did, and you kept it moving.

"Where we're from now gangsters play ball," he continued. "I believe that his redemption and his second opportunity is pivotal for those young guys from my area to see a guy come through the other side and make it right.

"In terms of [the Steelers being interested in Vick], to be quite honest with you, our quarterback is going through some things of his own right now, and he needs my complete support and undivided attention. So it just wasn't the appropriate time for us to consider something of that nature."

At the time, there were plenty of skeptics; Vick had been an inconsistent quarterback before the stint in Leavenworth, and the thinking went that his best chance at NFL redemption might come with a position change -- maybe running back, wide receiver or wildcat specialist.

Instead, Vick waited his turn and when he finally got on the field, he seized the opportunity, played out of his mind and led the Eagles to the playoffs. But Vick was also just 30 last season; he still possessed the physical skills that made him one of the NFL's most dangerous quarterbacks before dogs and the legal system led to his downfall.

"Tomlin wouldn't be afraid of the sideshow Tiki Barber might create, nor would he be shy about pulling the plug if the 36-year-old back couldn't beat out the likes of Mewelde Moore."

That's exactly what Tomlin would be afraid of. Referring again to Tomlin's 2009 conversation with Sanders about Vick: "…[T]o be quite honest with you, our quarterback is going through some things of his own right now, and he needs my complete support and undivided attention." It sounds like there's only so much "support and undivided attention" to go around.

And while the Steelers have had their share of distractions in recent years -- from Ben Roethlisberger twice being accused of sexual assault to James Harrison's $100,000 in fines last season to the more benign Jeff Reed duking it out with a Sheetz bathroom towel dispenser -- that doesn't mean the organization welcomes it. It's hard to tell sometimes, but they're not running a halfway house.

(Remember: Santonio Holmes -- the Super Bowl XLIII MVP -- was shipped out of town for several drug-related incidents, including an impending four-game suspension. No one thought the fifth-round pick the Steelers got from the Jets for Holmes was fair value, but the organization had run out of patience with the mercurial wide receiver.)

Putting aside the media circus Barber would bring with him to Latrobe, Pa., there's a bigger concern: He's 36. When Barber called it quits after the 2006 season, he was one of the best running backs in the league. But as we've written several times lately, running backs are among the easiest positions to replace. There's no reason to spend large chunks of the salary cap (or use high draft picks) to get a back when equivalent talent can usually be found on the cheap.

Any team willing to give Barber a shot would probably give him a contract offering the league minimum. But at 36, Barber has, what, a year, maybe two years left? That means clearing a spot on the 53-man roster, one previously occupied by a young, low-cost back being groomed for a larger role down the road. Instead, the Steelers get Barber, who's closer to 40 than 30, and hasn't played a meaningful game in nearly five years. It doesn't make sense.

For fun, we looked back the past 15 years at the RBs who were at least 35 years old and played in the NFL.

Not surprisingly, it's populated with fullbacks who made their living as glorified offensive lineman and weren't relied on to actually carry the ball. Of the 12 players listed, none cracked 1,000 rushing yards for a season, and when we look only at true running backs, we're left with five names: Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Earnest Byner, Larry Centers and Hershel Walker.

Of these, only Allen was productive after the age of 35. (In fact, from age 35 to 37, Allen was a top-5 back, according to Football Outsiders. That's mind-blowing, frankly.)

In 2004, Smith ran for 937 yards, but compared to the other RBs in the league, he was well below average. Football Outsiders ranked him next to last among all RBs that season, ahead of the Bears' Anthony Thomas.

So even if Tomlin has a relationship with Barber and thinks he can handle the media scrutiny, the bottom line (because the NFL is a business, after all) remains the same: can Tiki produce?

History says no, unless you think Barber is the next coming of Marcus Allen. We do not.

The Steelers have a core of veteran stars; Tiki Barber would fit right in. The Steelers have a good back, Rashard Mendenhall, but no back-of-the-future type who Barber would be robbing playing time from. And one NFL source tells me Barber really wants a shot to play in Pittsburgh.

We have no doubt that Barber wants to play in Pittsburgh. NFL Network's Albert Breer hears that Barber wouldn't mind suiting it up in New England, either.

Regarding Pittsburgh's "core of veteran stars," why would Tiki "fit right in," as King suggests? Here's what's Mike Freeman wrote last month, after Barber compared himself to Anne Frank:

"I covered Barber for most of his career and he remains one of the most versatile backs I've seen. He was also among the most arrogant. Most Giants players hated Barber. I mean, hated him. They thought he was a pompous putz on a lifelong journey to show the world he was smarter than most of his football peers."

The Patriots have a history of taking flyers on guys with character concerns (Corey Dillon and Randy Moss immediately come to mind), but that's not the Steelers' M.O.

But maybe this time is different. Maybe Tomlin makes an exception for Barber, who admitted that depression led him back to football after he couldn't deal with losing his $2 million-a-year gig with NBC. Now, he wants another shot at NFL glory.

Still, we can't get past Barber sounding as if he's coming out of retirement for all the wrong reasons. And even though he's not the type of player the organization usually pursues in free agency, perhaps the Rooneys will have a sudden change of heart. We just wouldn't count on it. Since, you know, the Steelers said months ago that they weren't interested.

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Since: Jul 2, 2009
Posted on: June 21, 2011 3:52 pm

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

I like how the whole list is blocking Fullbacks except for emmit and marcus allen.

Since: Feb 9, 2011
Posted on: June 21, 2011 3:39 pm

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

Peter King has a brain fart and spits out "Tiki to the Steelers". Whatever. Tiki should try out for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL. Jim Fassel is the head coach.

Since: Oct 20, 2006
Posted on: June 21, 2011 2:31 pm

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

Vick found God ? How long was he missing ? How old is Tikki ? OH , he won a Super Bowl . Whooopie ! Did Vick have a team in front of him ? Not as good as Barber did , or did Tikki won the Super Bowl  all by him self ? I guess Tikki didn't ever make a bad mistake in his life . aND , WHAT does a " Extra lady " have to do with playing football ? Sounds like jealousy  on your part . And nothing else .

Since: Aug 24, 2006
Posted on: June 21, 2011 2:03 pm

Second Chances???

I find it so interesting that a few years ago Michael Vick had sat his arse in prison for a few years (and should have been a few years more) and when he was about to get released everyone was screaming about give him a chance, redemption, second chances, let him prove himself and whatever bunch of other b.s. they could think of.  Most fans wanted their teams to line up and place him right in as the starter.  What had Vick accomplished in the league up to that point?  He could run real fast like Forrest Gump but he had not won a damn thing in Atlanta.  Many said he was a 'me first' type guy with a bad attitude, hell he flipped his own fans the bird.  Add on to that he was a CONVICTED criminal involved in dog fighting and bar shootings. 

Now we have Tiki here who has proven himself on the field time and time again.  He was a NFL leader in rushing, he actually does have a Super Bowl ring (and to the couch spectator who wanted to state he was not so present in the playoffs, give me a break...he had 16 games that got them there and teams do zero in, and he is as smart as they come on and off of the field.  He has not been arrested and has not sat in prison.  What he has done is made some family mistakes (but there is a lot of that in the NFL) and he may not have been a very good locker room kind of guy.  There are tons of those guys in the league already, think of Big Ben Rapistberger or A-Rod.  Egos in athletes is nothing new.

But in comparison of the two....criminal, bad choices, a lot of family baggage and a few years in prison after accomplishing nothing versus 6 years out of the league....voluntarily, clean record, me first attitude and an extra lady....I will take the latter.  Go back to those second chances and lets give the guy a chance to see if he corrected his attitude these last few years.  Perhaps he found humility like Vick found God.  Until the guy straps on the helmet and hits the grass we do not know what he has left in the tank, but I for one would not be against my team taking a flyer on him with an incentive laden contract and giving him a shot.  I think he earned at least that second chance to prove it.  Or did he have to go to prison first to actually get that???

Since: Sep 12, 2007
Posted on: June 21, 2011 1:50 pm

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

I'll argue that 937 yards at the age of 35 for  is more a statement of just how good he was, and in fact was a successful year for him.  The blog seems to conveniently forget just how bad the Arizona offensive line in 2004 was, and that the passer was Josh McCown.

Compare that to 2005 with Kurt Warner passing, your top rusher was Marshall Shipp with 451 yards, and JJ Arrington at 370 yards, two guys that were at least 10 years younger than Smith. 

Since: Mar 27, 2007
Posted on: June 21, 2011 1:27 pm

Just to be clear....

Just to be clear.... "dogs and the legal system" are not what led to Vick's downfall. The lack of an internal moral compass, general stupidity, and lack of any shred of compassion... led to his downfall.

Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: June 21, 2011 9:39 am

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

I agree 100%, the Ronney family is not for a lot of Controversy, especially from a has-been player like Tiki.  He is only committed to himself.

Since: Aug 24, 2007
Posted on: June 21, 2011 2:59 am

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

In fact, why would anyone want him.  He was a great rb for the Gmen, but disappeared in the playoffs.  The team won that SB in 2007 without him.  Probably because of a better sense of comraderie, now that no one was sniping on the coach.  Tiki showed his true colors on 2 occasions: 1) when he cast aspersions on Strahan during his negotiations for a new contract, 2) when he tried to make fun of Eli as a team leader.  He sux as a teammate, and as a person.

Since: Jul 26, 2007
Posted on: June 21, 2011 12:58 am

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

"It's hard to tell sometimes, but they're not running a halfway house."  Huh?  We're not talking about the Bengals or Raiders here, or Ray Lewis' Ravens.  They're the Steelers.  Not without some problem individuals, but hardly a halfway house.  They're also not the place for players who aren't team-first on the field, and with Tiki, it's me, me, and me, followed by me and me.  In addition, coach Tomlin may have coached Ronde, but that doesn't mean he has any relationship at all with Tiki.

This report is spun out of thin air.  There may be a place in the NFL for Tiki, but I'm 99% sure Pittsburgh isn't it. 

Since: Aug 29, 2006
Posted on: June 20, 2011 11:18 pm

Why Tiki to the Steelers doesn't make sense

He will never play NFL football again. he has nothing left to offer.

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