San Francisco 49ers: Could Tiki Barber Replace Brian Westbrook at Running Back?

Brandon McClintockCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 26:  Tiki Barber #21 of the New York Giants runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans during their game on November 26, 2006 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It has become obvious that Brian Westbrook does not intend to return to the San Francisco 49ers for the 2011-2012 season, leaving the 49ers in need of a running back to backup Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon.

Westbrook has recently expressed his interest in returning to the Philadelphia Eagles to finish his career where it started.

“I talk to coach Reid every week or so,” Westbrook said. “We always talk, and I would love to be back in Philly. So we’ll see how things go. I think I can help out. I think they have a very good group of young guys on this team at every position, but I still think I can help this team win.”

The Eagles drafted Westbrook in 2002, and with the exception of his one year with the San Francisco 49ers, he has spent his entire career in Philadelphia. While his playing time in San Francisco only increased with the season-ending injury to Frank Gore, the loss of Westbrook still leaves the 49ers in need of another running back.

We learned on Tuesday that former New York Giant Tiki Barber has filed paperwork to end his retirement and return to the National Football League as a player. Barber retired in 2007, following the Giants loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the NFL Playoffs, at the age of 31.

Barber is the Giants’ all-time leading rusher, and currently has two years remaining on his contract with the Giants. The Giants released a statement, however, stating that they intend to release Barber from that commitment once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached between the player’s association and the owners.

“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 team said.  

With the loss of Westbrook and Barber’s pending release from the Giants, you have to assume he is at least worth considering as a backup to Gore and supplement to Dixon.

Barber would hold some value to the 49ers in the West Coast offense. He is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, with 10,449 yards rushing and 55 touchdowns, while catching 586 passes for 5,183 yards and 12 scores.

Jim Fassel, who coached Barber in New York, said in a telephone interview that Barber is in great shape and likely can play for a few more years.

“He hasn’t taken a pounding,” Fassel said. “If he played running back the last four years it’d probably be the end of the road, but he probably has a couple of years left.”

Assuming he comes at a reasonable price due to his age, Barber is at least a player whom is worth kicking the tires.