Career mortality and why Sapp says veterans are no longer needed
Derrick Brooks is an unwanted commodity and Warren Sapp knows why
LB Keith Bulluck has interesting prediction for Titans-Steelers opener
More on Tweetups, Roy Williams workout routine and guest MMQB authors
It's happening to Derrick Brooks. After 11 Pro Bowls, six first-team all-pro nods, one Super Bowl victory and one Defensive Player of the Year award, football is saying to him, "We don't need you anymore.''
He always knew it would happen, and he's prepared himself for a career after football as well as anyone can, but it's happening too fast, and he's not really ready to go. He can't believe he's in his 17th week of unemployment after being cut by the Bucs, and no team in the NFL has offered him a chance to sign, even for relative pennies.
I'm stunned by it, quite frankly. I don't care if the guy gets wheeled into a locker room with two broken legs. Derrick Brooks is a football player's football player, one of the best students of the game I've ever seen. He keeps voluminous notes, he watches hours of tape on days off, he calls his coaches after midnight in the off-season to brainstorm. (True story. Ask the new Seattle defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley, formerly the Tampa Bay linebackers coach, about Brooks calling late one spring Saturday night with an X-and-O idea.) And to think that 31 teams in the National Football League can't use one of 53 spots on a roster for a leader like Brooks who still has the needle on one-quarter ... I don't get it. I called around the league to find out why, and I got a bunch of he's not the same Brooks ... we're trying to get younger ... he's not quick enough for our scheme. Blah, blah, blah.
I understand an NFL team is going to employ between six and eight linebackers, usually, depending on whether the team runs a 3-4 or 4-3, and I understand that Brooks isn't going to be an every-down player at 36. So the book says if you're going to have a linebacker playing 20 snaps a game, he'd better play a huge role on special teams. And Brooks, at his age, wouldn't be the kamikaze type you'd want out there. So it comes down to this: An NFL coach would have to keep one fewer special-teams demon in exchange for having one of the best leaders in the league. And that's why Brooks sits home in Florida today, waiting for the phone to ring.
But there might be something else.
"I'll tell you the real reason,'' his friend Warren Sapp said over the weekend. "Because it's not the same for the veterans anymore. The NFL doesn't need us. In this NFL, the old vets don't factor in. The kids don't listen to nobody. Nobody! My last year in Oakland, I'd try to talk to some of the kids. Tommy Kelly, Terdell Sands. But they had no interest. I thought the ghosts in that building were so valuable, but none of the young guys cared. Once in a while, one of the old legends would come in the building, or make a trip. Jack Tatum would be around, and I'd say, 'You know who that dude is? You know how he played?' And the kids would be like, 'Nah, I don't care.'
"The game's different now. Look at Vince Young. Why wouldn't he listen to Kerry Collins? I'm sure Vince thinks, 'Nobody's been through what I'm going through. Nobody's been through my kind of pressure.' Are you kidding me! Kerry Collins, fifth pick in the draft, has all the ups and downs, gets benched, makes those racist comments, has the alcohol problems, moves from team to team, comes back, has success ... Vince Young should suck up all the knowledge Kerry Collins has to offer! There's no better role model for him.''
I have heard that Collins went out of his way last year to try to help Young when the struggling quarterback was having his quasi-breakdown. Young had no interest. Maybe Sapp's on to something. If he is, it's a sad commentary on the kids of the NFL. I remember being in Tampa last year to do a story for SI on Brooks playing Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, and I thought at least one of the young linebackers, Barrett Ruud, tried to siphon off Brooks' knowledge.
Brooks told me he wants to play one more year. His gut feeling is he'll get picked up. His agent, Roosevelt Barnes, told me the same thing Sunday evening. Some teams have sniffed around -- the Saints, most notably -- but no offers have been made.
"I'll tell you how committed I am to play, and playing well,'' said Brooks. "I was hurt most of last year. First time in 14 years I've been hurt, and I played hurt. It affected me, obviously. But I wanted to play well so badly this year that I skipped the Pro Bowl after the season, and the day after our season ended, the day after we lost to Oakland in the last game, at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, I was in the trainers' room doing my rehab work on my hamstring. I didn't want to have any setbacks by playing in the Pro Bowl.''
When new coach Raheem Morris called Brooks Feb. 25 and asked him to come in and see him, Brooks knew he was being let go. He snapped into the phone: "Are you kidding me!'' Since then, he's devoted time to training, and to his young education causes, including seeing his first senior class of 16 students graduate from the Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School. It's the first charter school in the county that contains Tampa, and Brooks swells with pride about the lives he's helped change by giving inner-city kids a chance at a better education. All 16 of his charges will be attending college in the fall.
The fall. That's when Brooks hopes he's playing. Somewhere.
"The reality in this game is we're all going to walk into work one day and be told, 'You're out of a job.' '' he said. "I don't think it's my time yet.''
It's not up to him. For someone who always controlled his own fate with his effort and his play, that's the hardest part.
Four other notes as we head into the dead period when most teams closed up shop and rest prior to camps opening in late July:
The commish will be bullish on any alcohol issues. Roger Goodell sent a stern letter to the 32 teams last week, in effect telling coaches and those in the front office to have fun this summer, but legal fun. In the wake of sidelining Donte' Stallworth indefinitely without pay after a DUI/manslaughter conviction, Goodell sent these words to each team: I want to use this opportunity to remind all NFL personnel -- both players and non-players -- that the prohibitions on alcohol-related misconduct, including DUI, apply to everyone. DUI is a serious matter which poses great risks to both those who drive under the influence, and innocent third parties. This truth was tragically underscored in Mr. Stallworth's case. In the past few years, I have not hesitated to impose discipline, including suspensions, on club and league employees who have violated the law relating to alcohol use. Every club should advise its employees of their obligations and our commitment to hold people accountable for alcohol-related violations of law. Please ensure that your employees are aware of the resources available to them, including Safe Ride and similar programs. Let's make sure that the 2009 season does not bring more tragedy or embarrassment to ourselves and our employees.''
Brett Favre is throwing the ball with the old zip, evidently. Bob Papa and I had the coach of the high school where Favre is throwing, Neville Barr, on our Sirius NFL Radio show the other day. Favre's been throwing at Oak Grove (Miss.) High School, and Barr said: "He looks good. He said it was still a little uncomfortable, but I thought he threw the ball well. He had a lot of velocity and zip on it.'' It's a matter of time, as we all know. Only a setback in his throwing will stop him from being at Vikings camp.
The retired players are still restless. If you thought the $26 million settlement the NFL Players Association reached with retired footballers would have calmed the masses, you're wrong. First, because more than 2,000 players share in the settlement, the money per player is about $10,000. Good, but not life-changing. Second, because the pensions for many players are as low as $172 a month, restitution needs to come quick, and it needs to come now. "We have more than a few destitute Hall of Famers,'' said former Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure. "And we have golf tournaments to raise money for all these different charities, and that's a good thing. But we can't even take care of ourselves.'' DeLamielleure said he liked what he heard from new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, but he's not throwing any confetti until he sees the lot of the retired men improve.
Doesn't the Eli Manning contract seem long overdue? Remember right after the season, when there was a spate of stories about the Giants and Manning doing a new deal? Well, Manning enters the last year of his original contract this fall -- it'll pay him $8.95 million -- and a contract isn't on the horizon. Not that it's going to affect Manning. But it's surprising that Manning delivered what he was brought to New Jersey to deliver, a world title, and a deal hasn't gotten done. My guess is something will get done in the next couple of months. Hard to imagine Giants GM Jerry Reese even floating the possibility of Manning playing for the franchise number in 2010.
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