Tampa Bay Buccaneers take needed step by cutting Derrick Brooks, four others

TAMPA — It was a bad day for loyalty. That much is inarguable.

You could probably say the same about continuity and camaraderie. And, for anyone who has fallen in love with Sunday afternoons in the fall, it will go down as a horrible day for hearts and memories.

On the other hand, it was necessary. And appropriate.

You can see that, can't you? If you can put aside emotions for a moment, you will know this was both logical and inevitable. The reinvention of the Buccaneers began with the firing of a head coach and a general manager last month, and it continued Wednesday with the dismissal of a legend and a misperception.

For far too long, the Bucs have tried to hold on to something that was no longer there. They have behaved each offseason as if they were just a swing pass away from turning the corner.

That was wishful thinking. And, as of now, it has finally become yesterday's thinking.

I'm not saying Derrick Brooks was the problem with the Buccaneers. Nor were Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard or Cato June, for that matter. I'm saying the franchise needed a new identity. A fresh start. I'm saying the Bucs needed to become a different team than the one that has spent so many years traveling the same road to nowhere.

"At some point, it's got to evolve away from who we once were. It can't be Derrick or me forever. Somebody else is going to have to take the mantle," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We were eventually going to have to go in a new direction. If we weren't, we wouldn't have gotten rid of Jon Gruden, right?"

This now becomes your first impression of Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik. And, I have to say, it is an intriguing one.

It tells you they are not afraid. It tells you they have big shoulders, and bigger ideas. It also tells you they have some clue about how to treat people, and how to handle perceptions.

For a franchise that once set the standard for messy divorces, this was a welcome change in procedure. It may not have been pleasant for the players involved, but it was at least handled quickly and with some degree of tact.

In a way, it was like watching the breakup of longtime lovers. You've seen it before. The one doing the dumping — in this case the team — was struggling to soften the blow. "It's not you, it's me," was essentially the sad excuse. And you know it was a well-intended lie.

Morris and Dominik said it was not a financial decision, and it was not simply a question of age. It was not a change in schemes, or a problem with the personalities involved.

So what does that leave?

The one thing Morris and Dominik were too respectful to say:

They believe the Buccaneers can find more talented players at those positions.

Yes, Brooks and June were first on the depth chart. And Dunn and Hilliard were second. But the question you have to ask yourself is whether that was a good thing? Morris and Dominik obviously did not think so.

Maybe they have more left in the tank. Maybe they will catch on with other teams and still be productive players. Even so, I think the Bucs will be better off for having made a clean break, and taking a step in another direction.

"They are decisions we made based on us moving forward. Us becoming better," Morris said. "I have to make those decisions, and I can't have a problem making those decisions. Those decisions will be judged down the road, and I'm willing to (live with) that."

Credibility is going to be an issue with the head coach. That's inevitable. You cannot hand a team over to a 32-year-old with limited experience and expect everyone to fall in line behind him.

Wednesday's moves were not designed to buy Morris some credibility, but they could have that impact. Because the entire locker room — heck, the entire NFL — now knows Morris is serious about changing this team's image.

"I think he's making very certain things will be different in Tampa," Barber said. "It's his watch, and he knows how he wants his team to look."

My guess is the Bucs will look hungrier and nastier under Morris. A little faster, and a little less fancy. I'm guessing it will have more of an all-for-one atmosphere and less bickering between coach and players.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions. The Bucs better find more help at running back and receiver. And they better hope linebackers Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes are as good as the front office seems to think they are. And, considering how far below the salary cap they sit, they better be aggressive when the free agency bell rings at midnight tonight.

It has been a long time since Tampa Bay was a truly good football team. Probably from the moment the Bucs stood under the confetti in San Diego six years ago. The Bucs have had some winning seasons, and they have had some great individual performances, but you never got the sense they were ever again Super Bowl contenders.

I don't think they became Super Bowl contenders by cutting five players on Wednesday.

But I do think they may have taken a step in that direction.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers take needed step by cutting Derrick Brooks, four others 02/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 8:59am]

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