Commentary

All-decade pick Brooks wants to play on

Originally Published: June 22, 2009
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Derrick BrooksAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesLinebacker Derrick Brooks toiled 14 seasons for the Buccaneers. A member of ESPN.com's all-decade defense, Brooks hopes to play at least one more season. Brooks enjoyed the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII victory over the Oakland Raiders in 2003.
The most celebrated member of the ESPN.com NFL Team of the Decade (minus one season) for the 2000s began his pro career during the previous millennium.

If Derrick Brooks had his druthers, he hasn't played his last snap yet.

Selecting the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers weakside linebacker for inclusion on the all-decade team certainly defines the term no-brainer. The 14-year veteran hopes his divorce from the Bucs isn't the final chapter of a brilliant career.

"I've kept myself in [football] shape," said Brooks, 36, who was released by Tampa Bay in February. "People out there know I still want to play. There are still definitely some things I want to accomplish before I'm done."

Few players have the résumé Brooks owns.

If the ESPN.com selectors had chosen a captain for the team, Brooks likely would have been among those strongly considered, because of his deeds on and off the field as well as his leadership abilities. There have been few classier gentlemen in the league during the past decade and a half, and few players who have been as respected by their peers. As a defender who earned 11 Pro Bowl selections, Brooks was arguably in a class by himself.

No other player from the Team of the Decade earned more Pro Bowl invitations. Brooks led all members of the all-decade team with nine All-Pro selections. By comparison, the other two defenders in the linebacker trio, Baltimore's Ray Lewis and Chicago's Brian Urlacher, combined for 10 All-Pro honors. Only one other man chosen for the fictitious team, fullback Lorenzo Neal, played in more games during his career. In 14 seasons, Brooks remarkably never missed a single appearance, playing in 224 contests and starting all of them. Just three players from the all-decade roster -- cornerback Troy Vincent (16), Neal (16) and defensive end Michael Strahan (15) -- logged more seasons than Brooks did.

Of the dozen players on the Team of the Decade who actually entered the league during the 1990s, Brooks, who put in five seasons before this millennium began, even merited solid consideration from the last decade. The three spots on that defense went to Junior Seau, Kevin Greene and Derrick Thomas, but Brooks was in the running. And unlike Thomas and Greene, who earned their status as superb upfield pass-rushers, Brooks brought the whole linebacker package.

"He was asked to do a lot, because [the coaches] knew he could do it all," said former Tampa Bay safety John Lynch, who was released by the Bucs after the 2003 season and continued his career with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. "He was a player without any real weakness."

Brooks was a terrific anchor against the run and is just two tackles shy of 1,700 stops for his career. Although he dropped into coverage much more often than he rushed the quarterback, Brooks still had 13½ career sacks. And his pass-coverage skills, highlighted by his 25 interceptions and 41 passes defensed, were tremendous for a linebacker.

Although he didn't always author game-changing plays, Brooks altered many contests with his mere presence. He had a knack for doing the little things the right way. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and his play typically was textbook for the position.

Said Brooks to the collective Tampa media a few weeks ago, "My play speaks for itself. … I didn't always make the flashy play, but I'm proud that I was so consistently good in doing the kinds of things that don't always make headlines."

His selection to the ESPN.com NFL Team of the Decade speaks volumes about Brooks' long and productive run as a top-shelf defender.

Even last season, when his playing time was reduced because he generally came off the field on passing downs, Brooks posted 73 tackles. Brooks wasn't released for salary-cap purposes, but rather because the team's new football regime wanted to develop some of its younger players.

Brooks remains young at heart and hopes another team will recognize that he still can be productive.

First-year Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, whose tenure with the franchise mirrors that of Brooks, conceded that cutting the standout linebacker was "one of the most emotional" decisions of his career.

There was no emotion involved in choosing Brooks as a member of the Team of the Decade. The unit is composed of some exceptional defenders, but very few carried the kind of gravitas that Brooks possessed or enjoyed the long stretch of terrific play he provided. The Team of the Decade for the 1990s, which the Pro Football Hall Of Fame Selection Committee members compiled, didn't include a prototype weakside linebacker. And the all-star group selected by ESPN.com includes two middle linebackers and Brooks.

Brooks didn't reinvent the weakside position, but only a handful of men in NFL history have played the spot as well as he has. His standing as part of the Team of the Decade for the 2000s is well earned.

"And there's still something left [in the tank]," Brooks said. "But it's nice, too, to be recognized for having done something at a high level and for a long time."

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.