Today in NFC South history

On this date in 2009, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made one of the most controversial moves in NFC South history.

They released Derrick Brooks, who at that point, easily was the best player in division history (Drew Brees might have surpassed him in recent years). The Bucs also released Warrick Dunn, Ike Hilliard, Joey Galloway and Cato June that day.

It was a strong statement that Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris, who recently had been named as general manager and coach, were going to try to build with youth. But the move stunned fans because Brooks was more than just a great player. He was an icon in Tampa Bay.

Initially, Brooks harbored some resentment toward the Bucs and said he wanted to continue playing elsewhere. There was a brief flirtation with the New Orleans Saints, but nothing came of it. As it turned out, no other team was interested in Brooks and he never played in the NFL again. Over time, things have thawed a bit between Brooks and the team. He’s a lock to someday enter the team’s Ring of Honor and could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer next year.

In hindsight, the Brooks release still was a questionable move. There’s no question Brooks was nearing the end of his career, but he still had plenty of value as a leader. I think the Bucs could have been a little better than 3-13 in the first year of the Morris/Dominik regime if they had kept Brooks around.

And I can’t help but wonder if the way the Brooks departure was handled has played at least some role in why the Bucs have had such a hard time selling out their home games in recent years.