Bucs LB Brooks holding out for extension
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
TAMPA, Fla. -- By consensus, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the smoothest, problem-free offseasons in the NFL, with great success on the personnel front.
But those lazy, hazy days of summer -- or at least the offseason -- are over. That point was emphatically driven home Sunday when the club reported to training camp at the University of Tampa and were made aware of their first crisis of the looming season: Four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks did not report and is holding out in pursuit of a contract extension.
While the club has been conducting occasional contract extension negotiations with Brooks since late last season, his decision to stay away from camp caught the Bucs by surprise for the most part. Brooks has two years remaining on a five-year, $15 million contract extension that he signed in November 1997. He is due a base salary of $3.04 million this year, and $3.75 million. Those figures would rank him fifth and tied for fifth among the league's highest-paid linebackers, respectively, in 2001 and 2002.
Asked if the team is braced for a long-term holdout by Brooks, Bucs general manager Rich McKay said: "I didn't anticipate this happening, so I couldn't tell you how entrenched [he is]. ...The ball really ends up in Derrick's court. I'm sure we'll hear from him. When I don't know. This isn't a path we've been down a lot."
One of Tampa Bay's two first-round draft pick in 1995, Brooks has led the Bucs in tackles for three consecutive seasons and is considered one of the top three linebackers in the league. While the Bucs refused to confirm whether they will fine Brooks for his unexcused absence, it is considered likely. Brooks is subject to a maximum $5,000 fine for each day of training camp he misses.
"We have for the past seven or maybe eight months attempted to do an extension with Derrick," McKay said. "We felt it was the right thing to do even though it was a little early. We still felt based on his level of play and achievements it was the right thing to do. We didn't make much headway, so it I guess it came to this."
McKay said while he had a feeling that a Brooks holdout was "a possibility for the last couple of weeks," at no time did the well-respected weakside linebacker threaten to miss camp. Bucs players were due to report by 3 p.m. Sunday.
Bucs head coach Tony Dungy found out Brooks' intentions in a phone call Sunday morning.
"I understand his position," Dungy said. "We just have to take the position now like we do with injured guys. He's not here and we've got to get other people ready. I know what he's thinking, and what's on his mind. He's wrestled with this and gone back and forth. He chose not to come and I respect that. Everybody has decisions to make. You have to move on and that's what we plan to do. It won't be an excuse for us. You've got to win and we plan on doing that."
Dungy conceded that Brooks' absence was a distraction for his team, which is considered one of the NFC's Super Bowl favorites. "It probably is today, but it won't be tomorrow," said Dungy, mentioning the team's first scheduled day of training camp workouts.
"I don't have a gut feeling on it. I don't know what's going to happen and right now it really doesn't matter. We have to focus on who's here. I think every player has to make his own decision. Derrick is certainly a guy that's done everything we've asked ever since I've been here. Derrick's one of my favorite guys."
Dungy said a decision on who will replace Brooks had yet to be made, but that one option was moving strongside linebacker Shelton Quarles, a fifth-year veteran, to the weak side. Fifth-year veteran Alshermond Singleton, a reserve, would likely then take over the strong side slot.
"You always are [disappointed], but Derrick Brooks is a pretty good football player and has been pretty good to our organization, and our community," McKay said. "So I'm disappointed, but I'll get over it."
The Bucs have extended the contracts of many of their core veterans in recent years, locking up the nucleus of their team. Brooks this weekend made it clear that he was in the market for a contract extension sooner than later. In Sunday's St. Petersburg Times, Brooks said:
"[The Bucs] told me it's supposed to happen. They say this organization was built on character. I plan to sit back and let it happen. I keep being told the team wants to make Derrick happy.
"I've sat back and watched while they've signed some guys. Technically, I have two years left on my contract. But they [extended my contract] before when I had a couple of years left. At that time, they took a bit of a gamble on the player they thought I would become. Now that I've done it, we'll see."
Don Banks covers pro football for CNNSI.com.