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."I always wonder during games, 'How Derrick get there so fast?' '' Ruud said. "Then I'd watch the tape, and I'd see he started running to the spot before I would have, because he just knew his keys and he knew the tendencies of the offense better than anybody else.'' But I also heard that while Ruud was a willing listener, the other young 'backers weren't.
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.
"With all due respect, after we win I definitely will not be stomping on any towels. That's just utter disrespect ... A proud organization, the Steelers Nation. But I'm not too worried about it.''--Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck, on the towel-stomping Titans, talking about the opening game of the 2009 NFL season, Tennessee at Pittsburgh, on Sept. 10 in Pittsburgh
"[Brian] Cushing has been a starter since the day he got off the bus.''--Houston coach Gary Kubiak, on his first-round draft pick from USC
Cushing will open at strongside linebacker, next to tackling machine DeMeco Ryans, playing in the middle.
"When he's been out here in shorts without a live rush he's made very good decisions, thrown an accurate ball and hasn't turned the ball over. But his foot speed is not very good. He's slow getting to the launch point and he's got a very slow and long delivery. So you have to weigh that. Sure he's been completing a lot of passes, but will he be able to get the ball out?"--Tampa Bay quarterback coach Greg Olson, on Byron Leftwich, thought to be the favorite for the starting job heading into camp, but now appears to be lagging behind.
"I just told him that unless he's picking up my mortgage for the month of July and August, he can't stay. He's not living for free. I don't need another kid around the house."--Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer, after receiver Chad Ochocinco said to make up for lost time in his professional relationship with Palmer he wanted to live in Palmer's southern California home prior to training camp
"Damn! I almost got caught texting!''--OGOchocinco, Cincinnati WR Chad Ochocinco, apparently from inside a team meeting on Friday.
Marvin Lewis is going to be happy to read that one.
"It took 30 minutes with a blow dryer to make my shoes wearable this morning. They smell like dogs.''--sallyjenx, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, posting live from the U.S. Open at a soggy Bethpage Friday morning.
This week's sign the Green Bay Packers miss Brett Favre: The Packer Pro Shop and Atrium stores at Lambeau Field saw revenue decrease by $6.5 million, from $50.2 million to $43.7 million, from Favre's last season, 2007, to the first post-Favre season, 2008.
This week's sign that the Green Bay Packers don't miss Brett Favre: Only 192 season tickets in the entire building were not renewed after a 6-10 season, the first one with Favre not under center in 17 years.
Warren Sapp will appear as Forrest Whitaker's brother in a movie called "Family Wedding'' that begins shooting this week in Los Angeles.
OK, I'm out for four weeks after tomorrow's mailbag column. I wanted to give notice about the Tweetups I'll be doing, and where they will be happening, between now and the start of the season. (Define, Tweetup, you say. All right. It's a meeting between me and fans -- or non-fans planning to pelt me with tomatoes -- at which you can ask me whatever you want to ask, or at which we can just commune. I don't know. I've never done one. We'll see how they go.) The schedule:
• Monday, July 13, 4-5 p.m., at the Los Angeles Coliseum, with Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer. We'll be there for an the annual highlight of the offseason in California, "NFL 101/201 -- Get Ready for Some Football: An Intimate Evening with NFL Legends,'' hosted by NBC's Andrea Kremer. Guests at the event, which runs from 5-9:30 on the floor of the Coliseum, can catch passes from NFL players, walk through an NFL locker room set up by Green Bay equipment man Red Batty, and mingle with NFL players (Carson Palmer, Nnamdi Asomugha, Justin Fargas, Shaun Phillips, Jordan Palmer) on the field. There's also a panel discussing NFL issues hosted by Kremer and featuring Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, Palmer, officiating czar Mike Pereira, Raiders exec Amy Trask and me. (Ticket info: Contact Aubrey Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org) Having done this twice now, I can tell you it's a fun experience for the fans and the panelists, and a good way to be hands-on with the people you see on TV all the time. Sam Farmer and I will meet people beforehand in the parking lot outside the Coliseum, and you can check my Twitter page -- SI_PeterKing -- for the exact location. The Tweetup is free. "NFL 101/201'' is not.
• Monday, Aug. 3, 5:45-7 p.m., at Joseph Bruno Stadium, Troy, N.Y. (adjacent to Albany), with former NFL lineman and current SI.com columnist Ross Tucker. We'll be there before the Tri-City ValleyCats-Oneonta New York-Penn League game. Looking forward to answering your questions about the season.
• Monday, Aug. 10, 5:45-7 p.m., at Victory Field, Indianapolis, with injury expert/statsman/baseball guru/football savant Will Carroll. Meet us before the Indianapolis Indians game at the cool ballpark in downtown Indy. Will might even show you his IPhone. I'm at Colts camp in Terre Haute bright and early the next morning.
• There will be a Boston Tweetup after my training camp tour ends in late August or early September. Not sure of the date or site yet.
One last thing: Why the minor-league venues? We wanted to do them in public places with easy access for fans. We'll see how these meetings go, and if they work in places like this, we'll do some more. If only three or four people show up, we'll have them on my back deck in the future.
1. I think the most amazing thing I've heard in the past month, and I've confirmed it with someone close to Roy Williams, is that the Dallas receiver was never on a consistent weightlifting program in his life before this off-season, when he got after it at Valley Ranch. "I'm serious,'' this acquaintance of Williams told me. "Roy never lifted before. Now that he has, and now that he's serious about making himself a great football player, especially with T.O. gone, I think he's really going to have a good year.''
2. I think the most worrisome thing about that previous note is what it says about what in tarnation the Detroit Lions have been doing for the past decade. No weight program that receivers had to live by during the season, and out of season? That is downright ridiculous.
3. I think I know I'm late on this one, and I've opined on it in other forums, but I don't think this is a good sign for Joe Buck's new show on HBO: The show ends, and a lengthy Brett Favre interview has been overwhelmingly overshadowed by a silly set of uppercuts from a comedian HBO poohbahs have barely even heard of, and I said to myself: Joe Buck just got the interview that everyone in the media has wanted for the last three months, and all people are going to be talking about is how Artie Lange hijacked the show. Sad. The Favre interview should have been headline news all over America. Instead it was page two.
4. I think whether Favre has agreed to a contract or not -- and profootballtalk.com reported Sunday night he may well have done so -- there is universal agreement among those close to Favre that the money is either done or absolutely not going to be a problem. Favre's playing for Minnesota if his right arm feels OK by month's end.
5. I think the Bengals, as woebegone as they've been, can be models for something: doing what they said they'd do. Over and over in the past two years, owner Mike Brown and coach Marvin Lewis have said Chad Ochocinco wouldn't be traded. And though I think they erred in not taking the reported offer of two first-rounders from Washington for Johnson in 2008, they kept their word. No trade. At one point last summer, Lewis said to me, "Why won't these reports stop? I'm telling you -- we're not trading Chad.'' I bring this up only because we've got the Denver Broncos having dumped their best player, Jay Cutler, because he was miserable and obstinate and not buying into Josh McDaniels' program. And now we've got Brandon Marshall who wants out, and apparently he's found a sympathetic ear in owner Pat Bowlen. The Broncos need to take a long view of this instead of the short view. The short view is, "Let's get rid of this unhappy jerk.'' The long view is, "This guy's a great player, he's a handful, but if we trade him, we're handing everyone else in the locker room a blueprint for how to shoot his way out of town. Plus, we won't get real value for him.'' I can't believe I just told the Denver Broncos to study the Bengals. Frightening.
6. I think Laveranues Coles might be the perfect receiver to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincinnati, because Coles, who hates to talk to the press, is glad to cede all the interviews to Chad Ochocinco while he just plays. Coles is healthy now. If Carson Palmer can stay upright, Coles is going to catch 70 balls, easy.
7. I think I owe a bit of clarification to the contract I quasi-ripped in this space last week, the five-year, $47.5-million deal signed by quarterback Mark Sanchez of the Jets. First: You always get in trouble when you try to analyze these contracts, because they are never, ever what they seem. In this case, I thought $9.5-million a year, on average, was light given comparable deals in this draft and last year's draft. Then I realized this: In the first four years of the contract, Sanchez will earn $42 million, assuming he plays a minimal percentage of the snaps. That's $10.5 million a year, with minimum playtime. The contract was done with the idea that Sanchez, if he's at least average, will have his deal re-done after four years, because the Jets probably won't force him to play out his last year. If that's the case, and Sanchez is still looked at as a good player, he'll get his next contract after four years, not five. Just like a six-year rookie contract in most cases gets re-done before it expires, so too shall this five-year deal if Sanchez is still the Jets' quarterback of the future four years from now. And that has to be factored in when valuing a contract.
8. I think what impresses me about the first United Football League draft is how many players there are out there trying to resuscitate their careers. Look at the Orlando roster: Brooks Bollinger, Mike Doss, Rien Long, Chris Perry (the former Bengal top pick), Rob Petitti (the former Parcells find), Zack Pillar, Larry Tripplett, Seth Wand, Jermaine Wiggins. I have no idea if this league will last -- and I have no idea if Orlando can sign these guys -- but at least it's serious about getting players who've been there and done that.
9. I think as I head off on a short break before hitting the training-camp trail, I'd like to wish Jim Johnson, the defensive coordinator of the Eagles, well as he continues to fight melanoma. A year ago, I had a JV melanoma removed from my right arm. I am told Johnson's case is a big-timer, a varsity case, and he's in for a tough fight. Forget what this means for the Eagles right now; Johnson is a defensive mind par excellence and the Eagles won't be the same hard-to-figure, imaginative defense without him. But those who know Johnson know he's as good a man and honorable a person as the NFL employs. I'm sure I speak for everyone who reads this column in pulling for Johnson. And while I'm at it: Max out on the sunscreen this summer. Make this a sunscreen summer. Too many young people are letting the sun beat down on them too much -- or laying in tanning beds too long. Respect the sun. It'll kill you.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. The "V'' on the side of so many caps at the U.S. Open, including the hat of Tiger Woods? It's a Nike cap, signifying the "Victory Red'' irons that Nike produces and Woods uses.
b. So I went to the first round of the U.S. Open, the rain-shortened day. (Wait. Weren't all the days rain-shortened?) An observation from a golfing neophyte: I stood 10 feet behind Tiger Woods at the teebox on the 389-yard par-four second hole and watch him line up, address the ball and hit a shot on the hole, which has a slight dogleg left. The idea is to get the ball far out on the fairway, but not too far because then it'd be in the low rough, and if you can, get it to draw a bit to the left so you'll have a shorter shot to the green. I had a perfect view, from exactly behind Woods, and Woods' shot looked absolutely straight as it gathered lift and flew into the distance. Then, near its height, the ball started ever-so-slightly curving left. And it dropped left a bit, landing maybe 150 yards from the hole, in position for Woods to par it, which he did.
My point is not that Woods made a textbook shot. My point is that of eight threesomes we saw, there was only one shot that wasn't very good or better than Woods' out of 24 golfers. I'm talking guys the casual fan has barely heard of -- Bo Van Pelt, Simon Khan, Ian Poulter. It got me to thinking what an incredible golfer Woods is. If all these guys can make individual shots as good as Woods, and yet Woods wins so many majors and so many other tournaments, he's got to be the most mentally tough, consistent guy on the tour. When you don't see much golf, that's something that impresses you.
c. Ben Roethlisberger shot an 81 at Bethpage on that great idea for the pre-Open show on NBC, the Roethlisberger-Michael Jordan-Justin Timberlake round of golf. And I looked over the scores for the first three rounds. Noticed touring pros Jeff Brehaut and David Horsey also shot 81s, and Rocco Mediate, last summer's story of the year on the tour, shot a 79. And after walking that course and seeing the acres of sand and long meadows of the deep grass, and seeing the ridiculously long holes like the 525-yard PAR FOUR seventh (with a dogleg, no less), I have to say I'm fairly impressed with young number seven's game.
d. Four-game lead, Boston. Do not get cocky. The Rays are coming. The Yanks are the Yanks.
e. Uncle. Uncle! The first day of summer brought weather more like the first day of spring in the northeast -- heavy mist, fog, 58ish degrees, strong winds. I thought I moved to Boston, but apparently the truck brought our stuff to some combo platter of Seattle and Juneau.
f. Coffeenerdness: I'm in coffee nirvana when Equator Coffee is being served. Check it out. San Rafael, Calif.-based, and good and dark. Try the Zulu blend.
g. I don't know who Jon and Kate are, and I pray to God I never learn.
h. I do, however, know good books. Or at least one good book. Remember my review last week for the Bataan Death March spellbinder, Tears in the Darkness? This from Dwight Garner's New York Times review of the book on Wednesday: "No aspect of this battle or the infamous march that followed seems to have been overlooked ... It was not clear that this wall needed another brick. But then you pick up Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman's calm, stirring and human [book] ... and you think: yes, we needed another brick. Tears in the Darkness is authoritative history.''
i. The column will be off for the next four Mondays, but I want you to look for some surprise MMQB authors over the next four weeks. Who? That's a surprise. You'll have to log on each Monday to learn. I'll be back Monday, July 27, the day before I leave for my training-camp jaunt.