The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent shockwaves through One Buccaneer Place Wednesday by releasing five players, 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks, running back Warrick Dunn, wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard and linebacker Cato June.
With the exception June, all of the released players are in their 30's. Brooks and Galloway will turn 36 and 38, respectively, this year.
Tampa Bay created at least $9.5 million in salary cap room by releasing Brooks, Dunn, Galloway, Hilliard and June. The Bucs, who are heading in a new direction both offensively and defensively, now have a league-high $65 million in cap room heading into free agency, which begins at midnight on Friday.
Opening statement Dominik: "Obviously decisions like these are extremely difficult for any NFL franchise. We let go of five really special people within our organization. Character, the way they handled the information they received today, only speaks volumes for what they are as players and as professionals both on and off the football field. I thought Derrick was a consummate professional in dealing with Coach Morris, myself and Joel Glazer. It just shows the class of the men we had to release today. Derrick obviously is one of the greatest Buccaneers of all time. These decisions are tough to make, but it's a decision and it's a direction we feel like we want to head in as a franchise and organization. For us, it's a very difficult day. We wanted to let them and our players know that they are important to us, but it was a decision that we had to make."
Opening statement Morris: "There's never, ever an adequate time to make these types of decisions. Fortunate, we've been put in the role of being decision makers. We made a big one today. All these guys are great talents and meant a lot to everybody in this building. They have given us a lot and we're thankful for everything they've given us, pro championships, character on and off the field and personally. For myself, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in today if it weren't for these players."
Have you completely closed the door on all five of these players returning, Derrick in particular, or is there a possibility you will bring these players back at a lesser salary? Dominik: "No, we let each of them know we are going in a different direction, and those men understood that."
You said this was about letting younger players play. At linebacker in particular, are those players on the roster now or are they still to come? Dominik: "We believe there are players on this roster, linebacker included, that have the opportunity play and compete for a starting job at Sam linebacker and Will linebacker, wide receiver and running back. We believe there some young men already on the roster. As we sit here today, yes, we absolutely feel that way."
Did Derrick Brooks understand the reasons behind the move? Does he feel like he can still play in this league? Morris: "We're not here to speak for Derrick Brooks. What Derrick Brooks feels he can do. Today we're hear to let you know what is going on in terms of what we've done and the decision we've come to. Derrick Brooks, at a later date, I'm sure will address all of you."
Is releasing Derrick Brooks a career-ending move? Morris: "We can't answer that. What we do know is Derrick was a pro and he handled it like a pro, just like everyone in this room would expect him to. That's what we do know."
What didn't you see on film from Derrick Brooks and the others, and what was your evaluation that led to these decisions? Dominik: "It's a direction. I'm not a big fan of the rebuilding word, but in a way we did today and in a direction we want to head. It wasn't necessarily what Derrick Brooks and Cato June couldn't do, it was more about the direction we want to head with the guys that are currently on the roster and the guys we'll add here over the next few months."
What possessed you to go into that direction? Dominik: "Today really isn't about what we're looking for in the future in terms of free agency, it's more about letting you know that we let some great individuals go. Warrick Dunn, the way he has been on and off the field, is truly amazing. Ike spent a lot of time in the National Football League and he caught a lot of passes and touchdowns for the Buccaneers. These guys won us a lot of football games. Cato June came here and made an instant impact with the franchise. Joey Galloway sparked us with three 1,000-yard seasons. It's not an easy day."
Follow-up on Dominik's comments Morris: "They have to possess some of the qualities of the men we just let go of today. No knock on these men, but we're looking for men like them to carry us into this new decade."
What was the timing? Why now and not earlier? Dominik: "With free agency looming, out of respect to the players we felt like it was only fair to them to let them go now. Why not earlier? We wanted to make sure we were making the right decisions. We sat around as a staff and organization, Raheem and myself, and collectively talked about it through the combine. We wanted to make sure this was the right decisions and direction because these were not easy decisions. All five of these decisions were difficult to make."
How much money did you save? Dominik: "It wasn't even a financial decision. I haven't even look at that because these were not financial-related decisions."
Did the new coordinators have a say in these moves? Morris: "The decision makers are sitting in front of you today. We value everyone's opinion in the building and we talk to everyone in the building. That's our jobs as the decision makers. At the end of the day, Mark and I get together and make decisions."
Can you talk about the void Derrick Brooks leaves from a locker room leadership standpoint, and do you have anybody on the team that can fill his shoes from that standpoint? Morris: "There is no doubt that a void is created in terms of losing character in terms of what these players meant to the locker room. There is no doubt about that. We do have players in those roles that have to step up. It's a changing of the guard, so to speak. Players like Barrett Ruud. Some of those guys just assume bigger roles. They are stepping into some pretty big shoes. You never replace a guy like Derrick Brooks. You just put people in position and give them an opportunity to do it."
Four of the guys you released were over the agent of 30, but Cato June is only 29. What was the reason for releasing him? Morris: "This was not a money issue, an age issue or a youth movement. Like Mark said, it's a direction change. It's about where we're going and part of the plan. People will be in place. We have time to do that and show it."
When you say direction, are you talking then more about scheme both offensively and defensively? Morris: "We're talking about what the Bucs want to look like.
But you said you want to look younger, and June was a younger player. Morris: "It's not about looking younger. We want to look like our plan. Ronde Barber is not younger and Chris Hovan is not younger. All of these guys are still part of the plan. The guys we released today are not, but we respect them."
Can you expand upon the plan you are talking about? Morris: "We're going to be a fast, physical football team that consistently competes for championships. Right now we're moving forward. We're going to play some players that have been playing behind some of these guys and let them compete. That's our plan."
How long did you debate this decision, particularly with Derrick? Dominik: "Coming from the pro department and watching … I've had a very fortunate career in Tampa Bay. I think Derrick and I walked into this building on the same day back in 1995. I saw every one of his plays and games. For me, I've seen Derrick from 1995 to 2008. That made it very difficult. It was a decision we made over the last few weeks. It did take time because these are tough decisions. We made up our mind a few days ago."
Was there any thought to asking Brooks if he would be comfortable as a backup? Dominik: "Our mindset was that we made a decision. We felt as an organization and for us, I don't picture Derrick Brooks wearing a hat on the sidelines on Sundays. That is not who Derrick Brooks was, and that is not who Derrick Brooks is. From our mindset that is why we made the decision and said, ‘We're going to go ahead and let you go.'"
Did a public relations backlash like the one felt when John Lynch was cut come into consideration? Dominik: "I would hope it is not going to be viewed that way. I have a lot of respect for John Lynch just like I have a lot of respect for Derrick Brooks. I hope our fans and our community understand that. We are not delineating between the player that he is on the field and the person that he is off the field, both are very amazing people, for both him and Warrick. For us it wasn't so that we are going to have a public backlash. We understand who Derrick Brooks is. We want him to be a part of the Buccaneer family in the future, and we expect him to be a part of the Buccaneer family in the future. To me Derrick Brooks will always be a Buccaneer. number 55, whenever anybody says number 55 in my mind it will always be Derrick Brooks."
Did Brooks have to be released because his competitive drive keeps him from retiring? Dominik: "I think a lot of the great players just play. They play and play, that is 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 is hard to ever step away, but I can't answer for Derrick specifically."
Raheem, is this difficult for you because you envisioned coaching these players when you took the job? Morris: "Oh, man since I've taken over this job it has been nothing but difficult decisions. They are decisions, and decisions that have to be made based on us moving forward, and us becoming better. You have to make those decisions, and I have to make those decisions, and I can't have a problem making those decisions. The decisions will be judged down the road and I'm willing to deal with that."
Will this team be competitive next year? Morris: "You always want to feel that you are competitive for a playoff berth any time you step on the grass. We have plenty of time still to build this team up to what we are going to look like next year. We are in that process. Free agency is around the corner. The draft is coming. Then we get to hit training camp."
Will these moves make this team more talented next year? Dominik: "The idea is to improve the talent on this football team in everything we do. Time will tell I think, but that is our decision and that is the direction we are headed. Again as Coach Morris said, there is not going to be another Derrick Brooks. We are going to have some young men step up and fill those shoes. I expect us to be an explosive football team next year. The changing new direction we are heading I expect us to compete. I think we do have a good core of young players on this football team. Young and old with some veterans mixed in, so I do see us being a competitive football team."
Are you going to be a player in free agency? Dominik: "Again I appreciate the question but right now that is not what we are hear to talk about today. We'll address free agency when we get into free agency. Today is really about talking about the five men we let go who have over 50 years of NFL experience, that any franchise would have a hard time talking about the decision we felt we needed to make, and the direction that we are going to go with this team. Again I think we are building on some of the men that we already have in the locker room, and we are going to build onto that."
What do you say to the fans that have their doubts? Morris: "Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Fans should doubt. That is why they are called fans. I have to make them believe. We have to make them believe. That is our job. That is the beauty of our game."
Do these moves speak to big changes at wide receiver and linebacker? Dominik: "Obviously when you let go of two starting linebackers and you let go reserves they were last year at receiver there is going to be some changes. We still have seven linebackers under contract. We still have six wide receivers under contract. We are going to continue to work on negotiating contracts for our players that are about to hit free agency."
Free agency and the salary cap did not factor into this decision? Dominik: Zero. It really had nothing to do with this decision."
Should it have had? Dominik: "No. Why should it? I mean to me we are making decisions that we feel are going to build what we want the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to look like next year, in five years, and in 10 years."
What have you told the remaining players about today's moves? Morris: "After I spoke with all the men that we let go today. I called a few of our key members, guys who are leaders on this team that I wanted to give a heads up to. I let them know our direction, let them know our plan. They were all willing. They were all ready to go. They are fired up. Not because we let go of guys, but because they have an opportunity. Everybody wants to be Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Ike Hilliard, Joey Galloway. They want to be those guys. They want to be Cato June, so our guys look forward to filling those shoes. That is their competitive nature."
Raheem, what will you tell your grandkids about Derrick Brooks? Morris: "Derrick Brooks, let's take away from the player part right away. Him as a person, how much he developed me, our Friday talks, an unbelievable man, a role model to us all. Not matter what field we are in. That is what I'd start off with. Then after that we'd talk about some of those splash plays he made."
Any come to mind? Morris: "Let's say the whole 2002 season. What I remember that season was him driving a truck off the field after winning defensive player of the year. Might be NFL player of the year whatever it was, I was too young to realize it but you are talking about a legend."
Follow-up to Morris' remarks Dominik: "I would follow that up by saying what he and Warren Sapp basically created. Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy brought the system, but without he and Warren Sapp, I don't know if there is a Tampa 2 today. So that is what I'll always remember about Derrick Brooks. He is one of the forefathers of the Tampa 2. He will always be linked to the pride that we have and the defense we've had here over the years, and what we are going to try to emulate as we go forward."