NFL

NFL Analysis: Tiki Barber is Supposed to be a Team Player Now?

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Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber announced through his agent Tuesday that he was filing reinstatement papers with the NFL. Barber, 36, retired at the end of the 2006 season after accumulating over 2,000 yards from scrimmage three years in a row. He was the 21st player in NFL history to rush for over 10,000 yards in his career, and the third player in NFL history to gain more than 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards in a career. The Giants currently hold his rights, and have announced he will be released as soon as a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached.

“We wish Tiki nothing but the best, and when we are able to make the transaction, we will release him from our reserve/retired list,” the Giants said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

Comments made by current and former Giants suggest Barber would not be welcome in the New York locker room.

“Is Tiki ‘No Need for a’ Barber’ serious??” Giants receiver Steve Smith posted on Twitter Tuesday. “Can’t wait till he play vs the Giants. They gone hear them Boooo’s all way in LA.”

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Former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce was also critical after Barber's announcement. According to Pierce, Barber will not provide leadership in a team's locker room.

Tiki Barber, the football player, great player, will be very productive probably in certain situations,” Pierce said Tuesday. “Tiki Barber, the leader, the person in that locker room? He is not going to do anything for your team. Now if that is the guy you think you are bringing in, you might want to look in another direction.”

Pierce says the basis for his beliefs about Barber's leadership stem from the effect Barber had on the Giants' locker room in 2006.

“From personal experience, he didn’t do anything to help the Giants [in] 2006 when he decided to retire in the middle of the season and then months later question our quarterback and our head coach,” Pierce said (video). “That is my problem with Tiki Barber.”

In 2006, Barber announced that he would retire at then end of the season. The mid-season announcement was widely criticized in the media. The New York Daily News' Gary Myers wrote that Barber "created a season-long distraction" the Giants "don't need.” ESPN's Tom Jackson said Barber's retirment announcement "distracted the team from the task at hand." Michael Irvin said that Barber quit on the Giants.

"To me, in my head, that's quitting," Irvin said before a Monday night game between the Cowboys and Giants. "That's not retiring."

After retirement, Barber said that conflict with Giants coach Tom Coughlin "started to take its toll on me."

"Coach Coughlin is very hard-nosed, and I didn't get a lot of time off, couldn't sit down and rest myself, and so it was a constant grind -- a physical grind on me that started to take its toll," Barber said after being introduced as a correspondent for the “Today” show.

Barber called Giants quarterback Eli Manning's leadership into question in 2007, calling Manning's attempt to lead an offensive team meeting “comical.” Manning responded by criticizing the attention Barber brought by announcing his retirement mid-season the previous year.

“I'm not going to lose any sleep about what Tiki has to say," Manning said. "I guess I could have questioned his leadership skills last year with calling out the coach and having articles about him retiring in the middle of the season, and he's lost the heart [to play]. As a quarterback you're reading that your running back has lost the heart to play the game and it's about the 10th week," Manning said. "I can see that a little bit at times.”

Barber has a history of feuding with teammates. In Michael Strahan's Inside the Helmet, Strahan revealed that he wanted to “beat the s--- out of loveable little Tiki,” saying that Barber “was the only player I ever threatened to hurt off the field, outside of our locker room, outside of football.”

In 2002, Strahan was embroiled in a public contract feud with the team. Barber discussed the subject with the New York Post, saying that he didn't think Strahan “realizes how much $17 million is,” and should accept the Giants' offer.

“He's already the highest-paid defensive player in the league,” Barber said to the Post. “He's already making more than most quarterbacks. I find it hard to believe this whole deal hinged on if he was going to get $17 or $10 million this year. I find that hard to believe. That's the value of my entire contact, that's why I have no sympathy. You're telling me that's not good enough for two years? Give me a break."

Publicly, Strahan said he was unfazed by Barber's comments.

“I've never had any problem with Tiki,” Strahan told the New York Daily News. “If he said something that's bad about me, then he has a problem. I don't have a problem. I'm not going to drag someone else into my business. That would be unprofessional.”

In Inside the Helmet, Strahan claimed he was much angrier at Barber than he publicly revealed. He says he spoke to Barber on the phone, and Barber told him to “think about the team.”

“Mind your damn business!” Strahan claims to have said back to Barber. “And let me tell you something. If I ever see you outside or if I get you alone, I'm going to beat the s--- out of you. You better never let me get you alone! I am going to beat your ass!”

Barber and Strahan made up during a pregame telecast of a preseason game later that year, and Strahan says in Inside the Helmet that he and Barber “are great friends now.”

Barber's name reappeared in the news in April when he announced that he was leaving his wife of 11 years for a 23-year-old former NBC intern. His ex-wife Ginny was pregnant with twins when they divorced. Barber was then let go from the “Today” show in May, and NBC Sports declined to extend his contract for sports reporting when it expired. Barber drew further attention to himself in October when he told the New York Daily News that he felt like Tom Coughlin was losing control of the Giants.

"He's at a crisis, because the perception is that he is losing his team," Barber said. "We all know, especially in New York, once the media and the perception becomes reality you start fighting against it and when you start fighting against something that is not real, you make it real. That's why he's at a crisis. He needs to figure out a way to get control of this situation."

Days after making that statement, Barber was booed (video) at halftime of the Giants' game against the Bears when he came on the field for induction into the Giants' Ring of Honor.

In November, Barber changed course, calling Coughlin “the Coach of the Year.”

"You know what?” Barber said. “Five wins in a row … after starting the season looking for his job, the Coach of the Year is Tom Coughlin. He has the team playing unbelievable. I always said he's a good coach. Now he's finally proven it."

Now that Barber plans on coming out of retirement, he says that his brother, Ronde, inspired him to keep playing football.

“After seeing my brother still have fun at our age, it reignited the fire,” Barber told Jay Glazer of FOXSports.com. “I’m really looking forward to the challenge of seeing if I can get back to the level of where I was.”

Barber's trainer, Joe Carini, says that Barber is in great shape and would like to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I’m telling you, he’s ready to go,” Carini said to the New Jersey Star-Ledger's Mike Garafolo. “He did mention maybe possibly going down to Tampa by his brother, which would make sense.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,007 yards last season. Buccaneers backup running back Cadillac Williams rushed for 437 yards last season, and is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris did not say for sure whether he would like to sign Barber or not.

“He’s one of those guys who doesn’t know when he’s going to run out of gas,” Morris said to the St. Petersburg Times's Rick Stroud. “It happens to all of us. It happens to the best of us. But if he’s got a little bit left, I encourage him to doing it. Highly. You know me, we always discuss those guys who can help us. Obviously, we haven’t been going in that direction and coming off the layoff and all that stuff and where it’s going to go, where our young football team is, I don’t know if we have the ability to do that. I’m sure he can help someone, if not us, if it ever came to that.”

If no NFL team offers Barber a contract, he has the option of playing in the United Football League instead. Former Giants coach Jim Fassell, currently coach of the UFL's Las Vegas Locomotives, told the New York Daily News that Barber is welcome to play for the Locomotives.

"He says he wants to play in the NFL," Fassel said. "If he wants to come play in our league, I would be happy to have him."

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism. You may email Hank @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ HankKoebler

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