Free Agency: LB Could Find A Home In NE

Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking is one player who could find his way to New England the way other aging veterans have done in the past when their teams though their salary outpaced their performance. Brooking's cap number is too high for the Falcons to swallow. Read on to learn more about Brooking's status from one Falcon insider and the Falcons GM himself.

Can Brooking Be On The Patriots Radar?

Looking for a new home is always one of the greater challenges facing players in the twilight of their careers. One year they're starting for a team they played on for 10 seasons, the next, they're being told they're took old, too slow or just too expensive.

At 33, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking is in that position. Due a $1million roster bonus next week, Brooking is in serious danger of being cut by the Falcons according to a Pro Football Weekly report.

According to NFLPA documents, that cut may have already been made. Or as's Adam Caplan reported earlier this weekend, Brooking may have opted to void his contract.

We caught up with Falcons Insider's Doug Farrar to ask him about Brooking's impact in Atlanta and whether he felt that the soon to be 34 year old linebacker had anything left.

The Falcons enjoyed a miracle turnaround in 2008, but expectations have now shot through the roof. What the team found out through the season, and especially in the playoff loss to the Cardinals, is that they have got to get faster and more consistent on defense to make a deep postseason run.

In that game, Brooking was burned on a crucial late pass to tight end Stephen Spach that allowed Arizona to run out the clock.

Players aren't asked to leave or restructure over one play, though - Brooking's play has been lacking for a while. The Falcons may go with someone like Atlanta resident LeRoy Hill to fill that spot, or they may look to replace the veteran through the draft, but change s in the air.

Brooking probably has a limited future as a reserve with a team that has a young defense in need of leadership. The intangibles just don't for work for Atlanta so much anymore - they need more physical ability to make that defense go.

Falcons' GM Thomas Dimitroff spoke on Brooking's status at the NFL Combine this weekend.

"Keith Brooking is a player who contributed a lot to us on the field and off the field," Dimitroff told reporters. "We are in the process now of having discussions with his representatives.

"Part of this process here is determining what is out here in the draft. What are the possibilities verses what we have. We have not made that final decision yet."

Dimitroff went on to explain that the Draft is where teams look for replacements for aging veterans who may be in the final productive years of their careers. Typically a rookie takes a season or two to get up to speed, but that learning curve can be accelerated when a team selects the right type of player. Patriots 2008 first round Draft pick (10th overall), linebacker Jerod Mayo, started every game for New England as a rookie. The San Francisco 49ers struck gold with league Defensive MVP Patrick Willis after selecting him in the first round (11th overall) in the 2007 NFL Draft.

Brooking has started every game for the Falcons since 2001. In 2008 he managed 102 tackles (71 solo).

Atlanta may not have that luxury of selecting a top 10 (or 11) pick, being slotted at the 24th spot (behind New England). Still, with a half dozen top linebackers available, Atlanta could end up with a starter from one of the USC linebackers; Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga or Clay Matthews. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis or Northern Illinois' Larry English could still be available.

The decision to go with youth over experience is one Dimitroff learned in New England where he saw first hand how the Patriots preferred to stay with experienced linebackers rather than try to force rookies onto the field too early.

"That is part of the reason why we are here to determine if we are going to go forward with some of our players," Dimitroff continued. "To be quite honest with you, with Keith he has to decide what's best for him. We'd like to have him back, but he has to decide what's best for him in free agency."

New England has four linebackers over the age of thirty: Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas and Larry Izzo. They have found success can come from players even older than the norm. Take Junior Seau for example. Seau played a significant role with New England in 2007 participating in all 16 games at the age of 38. At 39, he re-joined New England for the final four games of the season. Seau even had a team-high 9 tackles (4 solo) in the season finale - a 13-0 shutout of the Buffalo Bills.

Izzo and Seau are free agents and Bruschi is slowing down. Adding Brooking could stave off the need to select another linebacker in the first round for 2009. That would allow the Patriots to focus on a greater need, the defensive backfield.

Can Brooking find a home in New England?

If past production is any indication, it could happen, and it shouldn't be a surprise if or when it comes to pass.

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