Bucs' LB Brooks Fails to Board Tampa Bay's Ship

July 29 – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reported to training camp today, but Pro Bowl LB Derrick Brooks was a surprising no-show. Although he is under contract for two more seasons with Tampa Bay, Brooks is holding out in hopes of coming to terms on a new contract with the Buccaneers, which will make him one of the highest paid linebackers in the NFL.

The first day of training camp did not goes as planned for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks did not report to the University of Tampa today and was not excused by head coach Tony Dungy.

Brooks, who has been voted to the Pro Bowl four years in a row, has emerged as one of the best linebackers in football and today, he did what he thought he had to do in order to become one of the highest paid at his position.

"Derrick has chosen not to report," said head coach Tony Dungy. "I'm aware of it, I've had conversations with him and understand his position. We just have to take the position now like we do with injured guys that he's not here"

Despite already renegotiating Brooks' contract in November of 1997 and September of 1999, GM Rich McKay has made several efforts to renegotiate Brooks' contract for a third time since November of last season, but all of his efforts have failed thus far.

"We hope this is something that resolves itself quickly, but quite frankly, I don't know what to expect," said McKay. "For the past seven or eight months, we have attempted to do an extension with Derrick. We felt it was the right thing to do, even though it was a little early. We didn't make much headway and I guess it came to this."

Brooks is under contract with the Buccaneers for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Brooks is scheduled to make just over $3 million in 2001 and $3.75 million in 2002. Brooks is also scheduled to receive a roster bonus of $3 million at the end of the 2002 season.

Prior to the 2001 free agency period, Brooks was the 10th highest paid linebacker in the NFL. At that time, LB Levon Kirkland and LB Mark Fields were the two highest paid linebackers in the NFL. Kirkland was making $5.495 million per season while Fields was pulling in $5.196 million. Things have changed a bit since then. Both Kirkland and Fields were cut from their respective teams and have since joined new ones. Kirkland signed with the Seattle Seahawks and Fields has joined the St. Louis Rams. Both took significant pay cuts when they signed with their new teams.

This leaves Chargers' LB Junior Seau as the league's highest paid linebacker at $4.623 million per season, and places Brooks in the top eight highest paid linebackers in the NFL.

Brooks is most likely looking to be paid as one of the top five linebackers in the NFL and in order for this to happen, the Bucs will have to pay him anywhere from $4.5-$5 million per season.

There might be some concern about Tampa Bay having enough money to extend Brooks' contract with a higher base salary, but the Buccaneers were and still are confident that there is enough money in their piggybank to sign him.

"In the extension that we offered, which we have offered on more than one occasion in some different forms, there was certainly enough cap room," said McKay.

The Buccaneers have not seen many of these situations before, but the last time they had a training camp hold out, the results for the player were not good.

Former Bucs' RB Errict Rhett rolled the dice and held out of camp in 1996, and later returned to camp without a new contract. A year later, Tampa Bay drafted RB Warrick Dunn, forcing Rhett to sit the bench for almost the entire 1997 season. After the 1997 season, Tampa Bay traded Rhett to Baltimore in exchange for a third-round draft pick. Rhett was released by the Cleveland Browns today.

Although the team would not acknowledge it, Brooks is believed to be facing fines for every day he fails to report to training camp. At this point, the Bucs say the ball is in Brooks' court.

"The ball really ends up in Derrick's court," said McKay. "I'm sure we'll hear from him. When? I don't' know. But we will."

As long as Brooks holds out, LB Shelton Quarles will replace him as the teams' ROLB while LB Al Singleton fills in at LOLB.

"I played there my first year-and-a-half, so I'm pretty comfortable there," said Quarles. "Wherever they need me is fine."

Despite starting off camp with what seems to be a glaring distraction, Dungy feels his team will manage without Brooks.

"It's probably a distraction today," said Dungy. "Tomorrow, it won't be."

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