Saints bench starting QB Brooks

12/15/2005 - NFL Aaron Brooks New Orleans Saints + more

The streak of 82 straight starts by New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks will end Sunday, as head coach Jim Haslett on Wednesday benched the seven-year veteran, and elevated backup Todd Bouman to the lineup for the game against the Carolina Panthers.

The move, unanticipated but hardly shocking given the performance by the Saints offense and Brooks this season, is certain to further ramp up speculation that the team will make a change at quarterback for the 2006 season. Sources insisted that the demotion of Brooks was a reflection of his inconsistent play and not a reflection of recent critical comments he made in which he suggested he would retire if the team was forced to move again.

Bouman, an eight-year veteran, has made only three previous starts, all in 2001, when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. He has played sparingly since being acquired by New Orleans in a 2003 trade.

For his career, Bouman, who entered the league as an undrafted college free agent from St. Cloud (Minn.) State in 1997, has completed 66 of 121 passes for 992 yards, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

He will become the 56th different quarterback in the league to start a game this season.

Brooks, 29, was acquired from Green Bay in a 2000 trade, became the Saints' starter late that season, and has held the top spot on the depth chart ever since. He helped lead New Orleans to a division title in 2000 but the team has not been back to the playoffs since that year.

While his statistics typically are impressive -- he is currently less than 200 yards shy of a fifth straight season with 3,000 passing yards -- Brooks has nonetheless been inconsistent. His record as a starter, including a 3-10 mark during this hurricane-ravaged season, is 38-44.

Team officials, including general manager Mickey Loomis and Haslett, have championed Brooks in public remarks about him over the last several seasons. But despite their solid support of him, he has not delivered consistently.

The former University of Virginia standout has completed 1,563 of 2,771 passes for 19,156 yards, with 120 touchdown passes and 84 interceptions. His 17 interceptions this season are his most since 2001, his first full year as a starter, when he had 22.

With the demotion, Brooks' uncertain future in New Orleans now mirrors that of the team. Even before the Wednesday benching, there were whispers the Saints would seek options at quarterback for 2006. Brooks has two seasons remaining on his contract, at base salaries of $6.25 million for 2006 and $7.25 million for 2007.

On the defensive side, Haslett said that six-year veteran end Darren Howard will not play in the final three games of the season and, because of salary cap considerations, likely will not be back with the team next year. Howard, 29, has signed the one-year qualifying offer for a "franchise" defensive end each of the last two seasons, costing the team more than $14 million.

The Saints had extensive discussions with several teams this spring, notably Dallas, about trading Howard, but opted to keep him when clubs did not meet their asking price. But Howard, who had 11 sacks in 2004, has just 33 tackles and 3½ sacks in 13 games in '05. He did not start two weeks ago and didn't even dress last Sunday. The former Kansas State star has 44½ career sacks.

The move will allow more playing time for rookie defensive end Jimmy Verdon, a seventh-round
pick from Arizona State.

"This situation has nothing to do with Darren Howard's knee,"
Howard said. "This is all about Darren Howard and the New Orleans
Saints not growing with each other. That's the bottom line."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider. The Associated Press contributed to this story.