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NFL Insider - Derrick Brooks still in Limbo

7-17-09

Just a quick reminder for all teams in search of a defensive stalwart: Derrick Brooks is still available. At the age of 36, most NFL players are looking for new jobs. Male athletes tend to peak at the age of 32, and the ferocity and tempo of the current NFL usually wears players down very quickly. It’s a testament to Brooks’ versatility and football IQ that he lasted in the game for fourteen seasons.

Initially drafted in 1995, Brooks played has been a Tampa Bay Buccaneer for his entire NFL career. A product of Florida State, the defensively apt Brooks was an eleven time Pro Bowl selection, a nine-time All-Pro and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, the same year he won a Super Bowl. In 2002 alone he returned three interceptions for touchdowns, a record that still stands for outside linebackers.

It’s easy to assume that Father Time has caught up with the talented Brooks. In 2008, he put up his lowest stats in his entire career, amassing just 73 tackles with zero sacks, one fumble and one interception. If you remove Brooks’ initial and final years as a Buccaneer, his numbers pop loud and clear. Between 1996-2007 he averaged 129 tackles and just under 3.0 turnovers per year.

Yet it’s not his numbers that should catch your eye. Its his consistency and leadership. For a franchise like the Bucs, the one thing they could always rely on was Derrick Brooks. He brought the defense under his massive wings and helped churn out defensive products like Simeon Rice and Barrett Rudd. That’s why it’s staggering that the Bucs, who made a definitive move towards a youth movement this year after failing to make the playoffs, would release Brooks. Perhaps the only thing that the Bucs thought is that with the diminishing production of Brooks, they needed to find new leaders. It’s virtually impossible for new leaders to assume leadership with a guy like Brooks around.

But Brooks remains just two years older than Ray Lewis, and only five years older than Brian Urlacher. With teams across the board settled on the 250 linebackers they will be staffing throughout the season, surely some team has a spot for Brooks. Where are the New England Patriots when you need them?

Surely there are teams out there looking for a leader who can unify a locker room or give direction to a squad like Cincinnati. How have calls and offers not been made? How are the Rams, caught in a rebuilding phase of their own, not picking up the damn phone to call Brooks? Lovie Smith, Brooks’ former linebacker coach in Tampa, has surely made an inquiry with his agent. And again, the New England Patriots, who annually seek aging veterans with strong football IQ’s, are not even sending out feelers for Brooks.

A lot of this is coming off the heels of a 39 year-old Brett Favre getting tryouts for the Purple People Eaters. If Favre can find work, then Brooks certainly can to. While he likely would prefer to sign with a championship contender, his love of the game should prevail over all else. And that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brooks donning a uniform other than the pewter and gold of the Bucs. Sure, it will be a strange sight to behold, but what will be even stranger is if a guy with the intangible qualities of Brooks is sitting at home watching NFL Sundays on a flatscreen instead of busting heads on the gridiron.

There’s one team that needs depth, and it’s the Chicago Bears. It’s obvious that the Bears have holes to fill across the board, and while linebacker isn’t one of them, Brooks’ leadership could help hold down a team that crumbled apart in the locker room last season. The Bears are +180 to win the NFC North division, and a +1000 stretch to represent the NFC in Superbowl XLIV. Could Brooks be the missing piece of a championship team? He’s done it once before. I’m not willing to bet that he isn’t the kind of team leader that could push a talented defensive front in Chicago over the top once more.

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