The days pass. The phone does not ring.
We are two weeks from the start of the opening of training camps, and Derrick Brooks, a linebacker all his life, does not have a job.
How can this be? Has the NFL reached the point where it has 250 or so better linebackers than Brooks? Was the tape on Brooks from last year really that bad? Is Brooks' agent holding out for a really, really big offer from the newly formed United Football League?
Or, perhaps, has time caught up to the fastest linebacker of his generation?
That, of course, is the last thing you want to consider. Around Tampa Bay, the easiest thing to believe in always has been Brooks. By now, most of us agree that Brooks is the finest player ever to suit up for the Bucs — a tough, mobile, honorable athlete who graced the franchise for 14 years. And, yes, you would like to believe there is still enough ability there to squeeze out another year for some team somewhere.
And still, no one is texting, no one is tweeting, and most of the helmets have been assigned.
For goodness' sake, doesn't anyone need a linebacker?
Look, we can agree on this much. Brooks isn't the player he used to be. If he was, the NFL would have begun an auction five minutes after he was released by the Bucs, and the bidding wouldn't have stopped until Danny Snyder ran out of checks and Jerry Jones' credit card melted.
Like it or not, the lack of interest in Brooks over the past few months has helped to explain why the Bucs turned loose of him in the first place. It may have seemed hard-hearted, but the rest of the NFL seems to agree it was not wrong-headed.
Still, have you seen some of the guys playing linebacker in the NFL? Put it this way: Brooks isn't the only guy who isn't still Brooks.
For that reason, I can't stop thinking that Brooks, even at age 36, will find a spot this year. Oh, let's face it. By now, 32 teams have decided who their outside linebackers will be this season. But someone will get hurt. Someone will get a closer look at a player who looked better in shorts. Someone will get desperate to keep his job.
So why hasn't it happened already?
Blame new coaches. The NFL has 11 new head coaches and 19 new defensive coordinators this year and, by and large, new regimes like to start young. Blame the trend toward 3-4 defenses. There are nine teams playing the 3-4 now, a system that uses bigger linebackers that can be aimed at the quarterback. Blame special teams. That's the problem with bringing in a veteran linebacker who isn't expected to start. Usually, those guys are asked to cover kickoffs and punts.
Still, we are talking about Brooks here. If you were a coach, wouldn't you be thinking about how much help he could give in spurts? Of course you would.
So where should Brooks go? Better question: Why in the world don't the Rams have assistant coaches camped outside of Brooks' home? Why isn't a team such as Cincinnati, with all of the unrest in the locker room, sending him frozen steaks through the mail? Why aren't the Patriots, who know the value of using a veteran in the right spot, holding on line one? How about New Orleans?
The key for Brooks, and for any 36-year-old looking for a place to land, is to find the right spot. If I'm Brooks, I'm looking for a place where I can play as much as possible, even if it's in the nickel. I'm looking for a place I can win. I'm looking for a locker room where I can make a difference. Otherwise, what's the point?
If I am Brooks' agent, I start by calling Chicago. I know, I know. The Bears are very good at linebacker. That said, Brooks would have a comfort level with Lovie Smith, his old linebacker coach, and general manager Jerry Angelo.
After that, I think about Indianapolis. The Colts still play former coach Tony Dungy's defensive system, and the linebackers there aren't exactly Canton-bound. Besides, Brooks always was faster on turf.
Call No. 3 goes to Minnesota. After all, this is a win-now season for coach Brad Childress. And if Brett Favre is young enough at 39 for the Vikings, then Brooks should look like a teenager.
Who else? How about Jacksonville? Yes, I heard about the reports out of Jacksonville this weekend that the Jags weren't interested in Brooks because they're comfortable with young linebackers, including rookie free agent Russell Allen. Read that again, because it may be the funniest line ever written. Here's a guess. Lifetime Pro Bowl appearances for Russell Allen: zero.
No. 5: New York Giants? If Brooks wants to share time on a team that looks playoff-bound, he could do worse than the Giants. And if the Bucs sign Plaxico Burress, you could call it a trade of Brooks for a Disappointment to Be Named Later.
Brooks in purple? Brooks in blue? Brooks in teal? Yeah, it would look strange. Still, if the guy wants to work, there should be a job for him somewhere.
After all, not everyone can be loaded with Russell Allens. Can they?
Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.