As part of the literacy initiative that he promotes, Aaron Brooks recently spent the better portion of a morning reading to first-graders. Even though the experience was rewarding, the former NFL quarterback acknowledged he would rather be reading coverages.
It has been more than two years, though, since Brooks threw a regular-season pass in Oakland's 2006 season finale against the Jets. At 33, Brooks almost certainly will never again complete an undertaking that was second nature to him during eight NFL seasons.
"In terms of people calling [and requesting a tryout], the phone never rings," said Brooks, who operates a real estate development firm and is involved in charitable endeavors in Virginia. "Never. I guess I'm still active, but I'm not really active. I try to stay in shape in case [a chance] ever does come along ... but it never does. My agent is still making calls and talking to teams about me. But nothing happens."
Every year, without fail, NFL players retire. But the flip side of that is the NFL annually (and sometimes cruelly) retires players who aren't ready to collect their pensions.
The current group of players who prefer to continue their NFL careers in 2009, but who are currently unemployed and might be retired by the league rather than retire from it, is large. It includes future Hall of Famers such as wide receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, running back Edgerrin James and safety Rodney Harrison.
Another subset is comprised of players with high-profile names but with concerns in the league about the quality of their games. It includes running backs Deuce McAllister, Ahman Green, Rudi Johnson and Warrick Dunn; defensive backs Chris McAlister, Patrick Surtain, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Mike Brown; and defensive linemen La'Roi Glover, Vonnie Holliday and Anthony Weaver.
There is even a bunch of players with recognizable names, but whose performances never matched their potential. It is made up of veterans such as quarterbacks Rex Grossman and J.P. Losman; wide receivers Jerry Porter and Reggie Williams; offensive linemen Kwame Harris and Kendall Simmons; and cornerback Deltha O'Neal.
Aaron Brooks, who lives in Richmond, Va., with his wife, Tisa, and their three children, knows exactly how it feels to be considered yesterday's news. There are GMs who might be surprised that Brooks has never announced his retirement or sent his severance papers to the league office.
Yet the perception around the league is that Brooks is done. Problem is, no one has officially informed him of that. Brooks would welcome a chance to walk away from the league on his terms, rather than have the league walk away from him.
"I've never really figured it out, because no one's come up to me and looked me in the eye and said, 'You're not good enough,' and I can't have closure until that happens," Brooks said. "All I want is for someone to be straight with me. It's hard sometimes to accept the fact that I'm not playing. That hurts."
Since the 2006 season finale, Brooks has had only two workouts. He auditioned for a backup job with the Steelers in 2007 and worked out for the Bills last December. Neither team signed him.
Some league personnel officials have suggested there aren't enough good, experienced quarterbacks to go around. Many teams have trouble finding a viable candidate for the No. 3 job on the roster.
The rap on Brooks during his playing career is that he was frequently aloof, not a great leader, and lacked the level of intangibles associated with being a quarterback. He agrees he was often outspoken, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which displaced the Saints from New Orleans for the 2005 season, and feels that may have contributed to his departure from the club.
But it's hard to fathom that Brooks, no matter his shortcomings, isn't among the 100 best quarterbacks on the planet. Asked during the league's spring meetings earlier this week if there were 100 people who could throw the ball better than Brooks, a personnel man familiar with his plight responded: "Oh, there aren't 20, really. But it's not the physical stuff that is keeping him out [of the league]."
Brooks was a good, not great, quarterback. In stints with Green Bay (1999), New Orleans (2000-2005) and Oakland (2006), he threw for 20,261 yards and 123 TDs. He won only 38 of his 90 starts, but played for franchises that had just two winning campaigns. Brooks piloted the Saints to one of only two division titles in franchise history in 2000, but the team never again qualified for the playoffs under his leadership. The torn pectoral muscle Brooks suffered in 2006, the only significant injury of his playing career, is completely healed.
He was never suspended by the league for a violation of the substance abuse or banned substances policies.
But take a look at the mostly motley collection of third-stringers in the league (Todd Bouman, Jordan Palmer), and even some of the primary backups (David Carr, Matt Flynn), and try to convince Brooks that he isn't as good or better. Still, Brooks wouldn't consider just any offer to play again.
"I don't want to simply be a team's 'camp arm,'" Brooks said last week. "When I talked to [Pittsburgh coach Mike] Tomlin after my workout, he couldn't guarantee me anything. Just give me an honest chance [to win] a roster spot."
Nearly 29 months of idleness is certain to be a deterrent for some teams. But using Brooks' age as an excuse really isn't valid.
It may not be the optimum comparison and, of course, there are many variables involved. Still, it's notable that six starting quarterbacks last season were older than Brooks. Including backups, there were 19 quarterbacks in the NFL in '08 who were older then than Brooks is now.
So the matter of age, a convenient rationale for many NFL personnel officials, shouldn't be the biggest determining factor for some teams. The QB position, after all, is one where veterans historically play into their mid- or late 30s.
But Brooks isn't holding his breath, waiting for the phone to ring.
"When you're on a team, you feel like you're a part of something," Brooks said. "Right now, my family is the only team I've got, and I enjoy my time with them. But it doesn't fill the void.
"The way things are going at this point, nothing will ever fill that void."
Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.