When in February newly promoted Bucs General Manager Mark Dominik decided Derrick Brooks' days as Buccaneer were over, the future Hall of Famer had a decision to make: Should he sign with another team capable of making a Super Bowl run, or hang up his cleats for good?
Well, it appears the league may be making the decision for Brooks. His options appear fewer than ever before. Offseason changes have led to Denver, Kansas City, and Green Bay switching from Brooks' familiar 4-3 defense to the 3-4 now employed by 13 teams.
Brooks has no experience in a 3-4, and still other teams, such as a once-promising landing spot Seattle, filled their 4-3 weak-side vacancies.
Brooks' options are fewer than ever, and retirement appears as a real possibility. Here's a look at the possibilities thar remain:
Third-year man Justin Durant took over the Jag's weak-side duties last season when Darryl Smith took over in the middle for since-departed Mike Peterson.
Durant notched just 70 tackles and not many big plays once taking over, and has played some middle linebacker in offseason camps. Brooks would only have to travel across the state, and the Jags defense and young linebackers could benefit from a steady hand like Brooks'.
The Jags' front office might also see this as good PR, and potentially getting some east-coast Bucs fans to switch allegiances. This move seems to make the most sense for both player and franchise.
Has Daniel Snyder ever met a veteran he didn't like? Brooks would fit in with a veteran Redskins defense consisting of graybeards like Reynaldo Wynn, Phillip Daniels, London Fletcher, and Cornelius Griffin.
Weak-side man Rocky McIntosh has tons of potential (the Skins are talking extension with him), but has been maddeningly inconsistent during his two years as starter. A Brooks/McIntosh combo at weak-side linebacker wouldn't be shocking.
The Bills added Terrell Owens in the offseason, so why not the opposite—a quiet leader like Brooks?
The Bills have employed a number of starting linebackers over the past two seasons due to the injury bug, meaning many of the Bills' linebackers can be employed at multiple positions to accommodate Brooks.
A signing here (the Bills have kicked the tires of several veterans at the position) would allow Kawika Mitchell to take over for undersized Keith Ellison at strong-side linebacker. Brooks would also be a great mentor for middle man Paul Posluszny.
Overall, the Bills are a young group on defense, and a veteran like Brooks would bring instant locker-room leadership.
Warren Sapp finished his career with the Raiders, so why not his class of 1995 brethren? The Raiders have solid young linebackers in middle man Kirk Morrison and weak-side starter Thomas Howard (who could fill in on the strong side), and a veteran like Brooks would appear to be a fit.
However, the Raiders roster underwent an offseason youth movement with vets Gibril Wilson, Justin Griffith, and Kalimba Edwards getting their walking papers. That breaks from the Al Davis Raider template, and may be a sign of things to come. And would Brooks sign here with the Raiders unlikely to make a run in 2009?
After watching Omar Gaither flounder at weak side the first 10 games of 2008, the Eagles replaced him with then second-year player Akeem Jordan.
Jordan did a solid job and the Eagles' defense seemed to improve with his promotion, but overall the position is only adequate. Brooks would be a fit here under one of the league's best coordinators, Jim Johnson, but the Eagles usually dump veterans once they near Brooks' age (see Brian Dawkins, Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Jeremiah Trotter)—not bring them on.
The Saints,a Buc division rival, has only marginal weak-side play. Scott Shanle has manned the position adequately since being acquired via trade just prior to the 2006 season.
But "adequate" might be a generous description of the Saints linebacker corps on the whole. Brooks could shake things up, and bring something few on the Saints defense have—a winning pedigree.
The Falcons—yet another division rival—bid farewell to veteran Keith Brooking during the 2009 offseason, and signed former Jag Mike Peterson to take his place.
Peterson played for coach Mike Smith as a middle linebacker in Jacksonville, but will play the weak side for Atlanta. But Peterson hasn't played the weak side regularly since leaving Indianapolis in 2002.
A Brooks addition would allow Peterson to be be first off the bench at all three linebacker positions, and compete for the strong side job with journeyman Coy Wire and youngster Stephen Nicholas.
Would Brooks dare sign with the hated division rival Panthers?
Carolina moved former strong-side starter Thomas Davis to the weak side last season, and the former-first rounder responded with his best season (100-plus tackles).
A Brooks signing here, though, would allow the Panthers to get fringe strong-side starter Na'il Diggs off the field. A signing here seems unlikely, but not impossible as the Panthers prepare for another postseason run