After a season of futility, which witnessed an NFL worst 30.9 points surrendered per game, the secondary of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will look different in 2012. Changes include the signing of cornerback Eric Wright, selection of 1st round pick Mark Barron, and shifting of veteran Ronde Barber to safety.
This appeared the second consecutive off-season where legal troubles would make Talib's future with the Bucs uncertain. Last summer, it was widely believed that Commissioner Roger Goodell would suspend the troubled cornerback under the league's new stringent personal conduct policies.
Perhaps deferring judgment until legal proceedings unfolded, Goodell instead declined to take action. Talib remained with Tampa Bay for the entirety of the 2011 season, where he played in 13 games and accumulated 2 interceptions and 2 defensive touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Texas case moved slowly. Not only did Talib seemingly stall to avoid interference with the NFL season, but the local jurisdiction's handling of the matter was further delayed by various personnel issues.
Hanging over the heads of all parties, Talib was facing the serious charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Not only did it jeopardize his place on the team, but a potential sentence up to 20 years in prison, the defensive back's entire career was at stake.
The case against the 26 year-old stemmed from an incident that occurred near Dallas on March 21, 2011, in which Talib was alleged to have discharged a firearm at Shannon Billings, the former boyfriend of his sister. The NFL player's mother was also arrested and both were accused of going too far by intervening during an argument between Billings and Talib's sister.
Prior to the prosecution's reversal, Talib appeared facing a summer trial. In dismissing the charges, the state did not cite evidence that vindicated the University of Kansas product. Instead, it was a lack of credibility in the victim that emerged as the real hindrance.
Billings is a repeat sex offender, who is currently an incarcerated felon. His ability to testify truthfully would certainly have been attacked by Talib's defense and this presented too great of an obstacle in trying the case. Credit should be given to the District Attorney for making the proper call based on law, rather than blindly seeking the spotlight of a high-profile trial.
For the Bucs, the dismissal likely means Talib will continue to serve as the team's primary cornerback. Though 2011 was a setback on the field -- filled with too many missed tackles -- Talib can be a game-changing defender, who typically faces an opponent's primary wideout. The addition of Wright as a 2nd cornerback looks far superior than expecting the free agent to take Talib's place.
Though the criminal charge is gone, Buccaneers' fans should not be surprised if Goodell re-considers the matter. In suspending Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in 2010, the commissioner established the precedent that external legal decisions did not bind his rulings. Regardless of criminal guilt, suspensions are designed to improve player conduct and Goodell is not shy about bold action.
What hurts Talib is that he can be considered a repeat offender. In 2009, the cornerback was involved in a fight with a taxi driver, which led to a 1 game suspension the following season. Both matters were violent altercations where legal charges were eventually dropped. Nevertheless, a strong case can still be made that Talib has not learned to avoid trouble.
Helping Talib's cause is that this incident involved some effort to help his sister in a time of need. That does not justify extreme violence, but with Billings' lack of credibility, the commissioner may view this very differently than a standard nightclub altercation.
The NFL will inform the Buccaneers if the league intends to act. Until then, Coach Greg Schiano must focus on refining his cornerback's on-the-field game. With new secondary weapons at his side, perhaps the off-season drama will motivate Aqib Talib to concentrate on improved football.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.