With Aqib Talib's legal troubles behind him, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can finally rest assured that they'll have the services of their number one cornerback this season - pending any possible suspension, of course. The Bucs have to answer another question now, though: do they see Aqib Talib as a part of the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or will they part ways eventually? Aqib Talib has only one year left on his contract, and that means the Bucs must figure out how to maximize Talib's value: do they keep him one year and let him go, do they try to re-sign him to a long-term deal, do they franchise tag him and evaluate him in 2013, or do they trade him?
The possibility of a trade isn't grasped out of thin air. Twice this offseason there were reports that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to trade Aqib Talib, although head coach Greg Schiano quickly denied those reports. Aqib Talib has, by all accounts, been a good teammate and a very hard worker this offseason who has done everything the team has asked him to do. However, the Bucs may not feel they can trust the star cornerback who has a history of off-field problems reaching back to his first days in the NFL. He got into several fights with teammates, once swinging a helmet at a fellow player. He was suspended in 2009 for the beating of a cab driver, for which he entered a pre-trial intervention program. To be fair to Talib, he has gotten into off-field trouble all of once since the cab incident, and that bit of trouble was just dismissed in the court of law.
One thing the Bucs must take into account is the cornerback's inconsistent on-field play and his failure to stay healthy. Talib has all the talent in the world, but he has a tendency to apparently lose focus during matches, giving up some relatively easy completions. Other times he hurts the team with stupid penalties, as the cornerback played a major part in the 2011 loss to the Chicago Bears in London, earning a taunting penalty to give the Bears a first down after an impressive third-down stop late in the game. When he's on his game, he can be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, as evidenced by his completely shutting down Greg Jennings the past season, but he isn't on his game quite often enough to be a true premiere cornerback.
More troubling may be the fact that Talib has never completed a full sixteen-game season, missing games with injury in each of his four seasons. He ended both his past two seasons on injured reserve and struggled with minor injuries that hampered his effectiveness throughout the 2011 season. With 17 interceptions and 3 touchdowns through four seasons he has surely proven his ability to be a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, but it's tough for the Buccaneers to reward with him a long-term contract in the face of all of these problems.
If the Bucs do not envision the cornerback being a part of their long-term future, they may be best served by trading him in the last year of his contract to at least get something in return for Talib. If they can gather a draft pick or a quality player who will be with them for the long haul in return for Talib, that may be preferable to having him around for just sixteen more games. The problem may be that they won't necessarily get much in return for Talib: talented but troubled players on one-year contracts don't often see much return in trades, as evidenced by Santonio Holmes being traded for a fifth-round pick in 2010.
The Bucs do have another option: they could use this season to evaluate Talib and offer him a long-term contract extension if they feel they can trust him in the future. If they're still not certain after the 2012 season, they can keep him under contract for another year with the franchise tag before deciding on his ultimate future as a Buccaneer. That's what the team did with Antonio Bryant during the 2009 season, and they let the receiver walk after an inconsistent year and a knee injury severe enough to prevent him from playing for the past two seasons.
The Bucs have a plethora of options here, but they should decide on a long-term strategy with the cornerback soon. They can't afford to wait too long.