TAMPA — They talked about going in a different direction. Now the Bucs can just hope the compass doesn't end up pointing south.
They talked about it not being about money even though they will save about $12 million with respect to the salary cap. They swore it wasn't necessarily about the age of the players, but clearly, they intend to field a younger team.
The Bucs began to give their franchise a face-lift Wednesday by removing the face of the franchise — the iconic Derrick Brooks.
Brooks, 35, an 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker, was among five veterans released by the team. The Bucs also said goodbye to running back Warrick Dunn, receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard and linebacker Cato June.
Those five players represent a loss of 16 Pro Bowls, 58 years of experience and 829 games, not including the playoffs.
Brooks was told in a meeting at One Buc Place with Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer, coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik.
"A good word is 'surprised,' " Brooks said by text message. "I will talk in the next day or two."
Dominik, who took over as general manager Jan. 17, said it was an emotional day.
"I think Derrick and I stepped in this building the same day," he said. "I saw every one of his games, every one of his plays, and that did make it very difficult for me. This day was inevitable. We felt like the time was right for us."
The Bucs, who are believed to have close to $50 million in salary cap room, said the moves were not financially driven. But several players were owed substantial roster bonuses as early as Friday. The moves prevented them from writing checks to June ($2 million), Dunn ($500,000), Galloway ($250,000) and Hilliard ($200,000).
Dominik said the Bucs want to provide an opportunity for some of their younger players, such as linebackers Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes, to play more prominent roles.
Dunn, 34, combined for more than 1,200 yards rushing and receiving last season and appeared to be a good fit in the zone blocking scheme of new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. But the team expects Earnest Graham to return from injury and is eager to utilize Pro Bowl kick returner Clifton Smith as a running back, particularly on third down.
Galloway, 37, had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons after being acquired in a trade from Dallas for Keyshawn Johnson in 2004. But last season, he missed all of training camp with a groin injury and nearly half of the season after breaking two bones in his foot, finishing with just 13 receptions and no touchdowns.
"Obviously, when you let go of two starting linebackers and you let go of the reserves at receiver, sure, there's going to be some change there," Dominik said. "But by the same token, we still have seven linebackers under contract. We still have six wide receivers under contract, and we're going to continue to work on negotiating contracts of our players that are about to hit free agency to see if we can bring them back."
Brooks was entering the final year of his contract and had hoped to play his entire career with the Bucs. Neither Dominik nor Morris would speculate on if Brooks planned to continue playing. But Dominik said many great players have a hard time walking away from the game on their own terms.
"I think a lot of the great players just play," Dominik said. "And they play and play, and that's what makes them have such amazing longevity in their careers. I can't speak for Derrick, but I do see a constant trait among the great players in this league that it's hard to ever step away."
On his final day as a Buccaneer, Dunn was speaking at Brooks-DeBartolo High School as part of a fundraising event. He refused to meet with reporters but released a statement.
"I am thankful for my Tampa Bay Buccaneer experience — in its entirety," it said. "It all started here. And now in my second term, I know I have been blessed to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in the NFL.
"I am thankful for the ownership, coaching, every teammate and especially the fans who have been with me through the highs and lows. It all adds up to an experience I often call it 'living the dream.' From here, I don't know what the future holds. But wherever it goes, I go with a full and grateful heart."
Last month, Brooks attended the news conference announcing Morris as coach and enthusiastically endorsed the decision. Wednesday, Morris thanked Brooks for helping him rise through the ranks since joining the Bucs as a quality control coach in 2002.
"There's never a good time to make these types of decisions," Morris said. "Unfortunately, we've been put in the role as decision-makers, and we made a big one (Wednesday). All these guys are rare talents that mean a lot to everyone in this building. We're thankful to everything they've given us — both championships (and) character off the field. Personally, I wouldn't be in the position I am today if it weren't for these players."
Dominik wouldn't address the team's plans regarding free agency, although it has the resources to sign any player. Tampa Bay is attempting to re-sign cornerback Phillip Buchanon before Friday's deadline.
But he also was reluctant to characterize the team's recent moves, including the decision not to bring back veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia, as "rebuilding."
"I'm not a big fan of the rebuilding word," he said. "So it wasn't so much what Derrick Brooks or Cato June couldn't do. It's the direction we want to go with the guys currently on the roster and men that are going to join us as we create the roster over the next few months to get to training camp."
Morris said he called several team leaders, including center Jeff Faine and linebacker Barrett Ruud, to warn them about the cuts and ask them to take more of a leadership role. In the end, that's what the Bucs might miss most about losing Brooks.
"Our mind-set was we made a decision we felt that was best for the organization," Dominik said. "I don't picture Derrick Brooks wearing a hat on Sunday on the sideline. That's not who Derrick Brooks was. That's not who Derrick Brooks is. That's why we made the decision and said, 'We're going to go ahead and let you go.' "