Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, two of the greatest Tampa Bay Buccaneers ever, are no longer Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Those two were among five age-related (and probably salary-cap related) releases announced by the team this afternoon.
Dunn just turned 34 last month and is still at least useful as a versatile back/receiver. Brooks is 35 (36 in April) and made the Pro Bowl this season after missing it in 2007.
The Bucs are re-tooling. Also gone are wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard and linebacker Cato June.
You could say “better a year too early than a year too late,” and when you haven’t won a playoff game since January 2003, everybody’s job is up for review, I guess.
I don’t feel the same sense of outrage that I did when they released John Lynch after the 2003 season, for some reason. Maybe because Lynch was only 32 when he was released and he went on to play four more Pro Bowl seasons. At the time that seemed like a huge mistake, and it was. We’ll know if these are mistakes, too, before too long if Dunn and Brooks catch on somewhere and are productive and no one develops to take their places.
You can say that legends of a team deserve better endings, but they don’t always get them. Rare is the athlete who truly gets to go out on his own terms, on top. Johnny Unitas got traded and ended his career in a wasteland in a garish uniform. Franco Harris got released and lumbered around in Seattle for a year. Others suffer career-threatening injuries.
Especially now, in the era of free agency and the salary cap, pro football is very much a cold business. It’s rare that a team can afford the luxury of carrying a player who just might be starting down the rollercoaster from the peak instead of climbing up it.
This day comes for all of them. A decade ago, Brooks and Dunn were young studs who saw veterans like Hardy Nickerson reach the end of the line. Now they’re the ones being shown the door.
A tough business, this.