TAMPA, Fla. -- Derrick Brooks, one of the top players in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, was cut Wednesday in a purge of the team's older players.
Brooks, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year when Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, was among five players cut, four of them older than 32-year-old Raheem Morris, the Bucs' new head coach.
The others were wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, running back Warrick Dunn and linebacker Cato June. At 29, June is the only player under 30 and the only one younger than Morris.
The moves caught Brooks by surprise.
"Right now, like all of you guys, I'm just trying to get a feel for it all, trying to come to grips with it," Brooks said by telephone. "I don't even know what to think."
The releases save more than $10 million in salary-cap space for a team that's already close to $50 million under the projected cap of $123 million. New Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said the object of the cuts was less to save money than to get the team younger.
"Obviously, decisions like these are extremely difficult to make," Dominik said.
Of the team's core veterans, only cornerback Ronde Barber survived the purge. Barber, who will turn 34 in April, worked closely with Morris, who spent time as Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach before rising to head coach.
Dominik said the timing of the decision was to allow the players to participate in the start of free agency Friday.
"We did this out of respect for those players," he added. "We let them know we are going in a different direction and we have young men on the roster who will have an opportunity to step up and compete for a starting job."
Morris, who replaced Jon Gruden last month, said he and Dominik made the decision with input from the rest of the new coach's staff.
"There's no doubt we are losing players with a tremendous amount of leadership and character," Morris said. "You never replace a guy like Derrick Brooks. This was not a money issue or a youth movement. This is a direction change. We are moving forward. We're going to play some people that were behind these guys and let them compete."
Brooks, 36, was the most visible cut after a season in which he made his 11th Pro Bowl.
"There is no way to adequately thank Derrick Brooks for his years of dedication and service to this team and community, or for his impact on me personally," Morris said. "He is a once in a lifetime kind of player and man, and I am very fortunate to have had the chance to work with him and learn from him. Those who played with him and coached him are better because of it."
Brooks, one of only four players voted to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls, also has been a standout off the field. He was the co-winner of the 2000 NFL Man of the Year award, given to the player who combines skill on the field with good work off it.
"Our family and the entire Tampa Bay community owe Derrick an indescribable measure of gratitude for all that he has meant over the last 14 years," Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a statement released by the team. "His play on the field and leadership in the locker room helped resurrect our franchise, and we look forward to celebrating his certain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
Dunn, 34, was the NFL Man of the Year in 2004. He played his first five seasons with the Bucs, spent six years with the Atlanta Falcons, then rejoined Tampa Bay last season, rushing for 786 yards and a 4.2 average.
Dunn made the Pro Bowl three times and is the sixth player in NFL history to have over 10,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions. He has played in 181 games with 154 starts and rushed for 10,967 yards, 19th in NFL history.
Galloway, 37, is the only Buc to have three straight seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards, something he accomplished from 2005 to 2007. He's only the second player to have three such seasons with two different teams - he did it in 1995, 1997 and 1998 with the Seattle Seahawks. But he comes off an injury-plagued 2008 season in which he made just 13 catches.
June spent four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, winning a Super Bowl championship in 2006, before signing as a free agent with the Bucs in 2007.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press