link Former New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks has arm, will travel Posted by Nakia Hogan, The Times-Picayune July 22, 2008 9:36PM Categories: NFL, Saints Aaron Brooks is one of several former black NFL quarterbacks who are having trouble finding work in a league that needs quarterbacks Aaron Brooks keeps a low profile these days. He spends his mornings working out, fine-tuning his physique, perfecting his three- and five-step drops, sharpening his rifle-like right arm. He's aware it might be all for naught. Since being released by the Oakland Raiders after the 2006 season, the former Saints quarterback who led the team to its first playoff win has seemingly fallen off the NFL's radar screen. As NFL teams open training camps this week, Brooks remains near his hometown of Newport News, Va., awaiting a call that might not come. "I've been working out and waiting in anticipation, " said Brooks, who spent last year out of football. "I'm kind of shocked and surprised I'm not on a team. But I've been patient all my life, so I'll just continue to do so." That Brooks and other prominent black quarterbacks with NFL starting experience -- Daunte Culpepper, Byron Leftwich and Quinn Gray -- remain free agents with the start of the season about a month and a half away is perplexing to some observers. In a league that puts a premium on quarterback play, several NFL teams appear resigned to head into the season with major question marks at the starting quarterback position or with little stability at the backup spot. Meanwhile, Culpepper, Leftwich, Gray and Brooks wait as journeyman quarterbacks bounce from team to team, leaving some to wonder if it has become a race issue or if some quarterbacks may have been blackballed. "Blackballed might be too strong a word, " said ESPN analyst Shaun King, a former Tulane and NFL quarterback. "But if you really are objective, the facts point to it must be something. It's outside of normal when you look at the way that some of the quarterbacks are recycled. If you look at the rosters right now -- and I don't want to call specific guys' names, but if you look at the rosters in the National Football League and then you ask yourself based on accomplishment alone -- how is an Aaron Brooks or a Daunte Culpepper or a Byron Leftwich or a Shaun King, for that matter, not somewhere?" Finding answers For Culpepper and Leftwich, their absence from NFL rosters could be as simple as economics. Culpepper, a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 1999, was considered one of the league's top quarterbacks before injuring a knee in 2005. After he was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2006, the three-time Pro Bowl selection was released after one injury-plagued season. He played in seven games with the Raiders last season before being released. Culpepper likely has the best chance of returning to a starting role this season. To do so, though, he likely will have to swallow his pride and play for the league minimum, according to an NFL scout. It also might take accepting a backup role and waiting for a chance from the sideline, something Culpepper hasn't appeared willing to accept. Last month, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported the Packers met with Culpepper and offered him a one-year, $1 million contract to back up starter Aaron Rodgers. Culpepper rejected the offer. "They wanted (Culpepper) to come in as a veteran backup, " NFL scout Chris Landry said. "And who knows what happens; you are guaranteed nothing in this league. But he wanted starting money and a starting opportunity. So he is a little bit responsible for (not being in the NFL)." Leftwich, the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, is likely in a similar situation. After replacing an injured Mark Brunell in his rookie season, Leftwich was emerging as one of the league's top quarterbacks. A spate of injuries, though, set his career back, and he was released before the start of last season. Leftwich played last year with the Atlanta Falcons before again being released. "Leftwich to a lesser degree is in the same boat (with Culpepper), " Landry said. "I think they see themselves as high picks and as starters. I don't doubt that in certain situations they are capable of starting. But teams right now, because of (Culpepper and Leftwich's) injury history, or lack of production recently due to the injury, are not willing to give starter money. They are interested in maybe giving them an incentive-laden deal, where if you come in and win the job, then you've got starter money. "I think those two guys could find work tomorrow if they wanted. I would be surprised if either is not playing with somebody this year." Brooks, another story When Landry is evaluating quarterbacks, he doesn't put Brooks in the same class as Leftwich and Culpepper. Landry said some teams might shy away from Brooks because of the quarterback's perceived lack of leadership qualities. Still, Landry admitted it is a bit surprising that Brooks can't find his way into a league that has nearly 100 active quarterbacks during the regular season. Despite Brooks' shortcomings, he is a proven talent, a player with a strong arm and some elusiveness, a player who has displayed the ability to rally teams in the closing minutes of games. "I don't have him rated as high, " Landry said. "I don't think that he is regarded as high. I don't think Aaron is as mature as a leader as people would like. Although I think there is a spot for him, possibly, the interest for him is not as strong simply because his maturity and leadership skills are not ideally suited for what people want as their starting quarterback in the league. "In the right spot, as a backup, heck, he's a guy that's started enough in this league -- I think he can be a solid No. 2." At the moment, though, there are few takers. After being released by the Raiders, Brooks said he took physicals for four teams last season, including the Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. There also have been a few calls this offseason. Though Brooks declined to reveal which teams have inquired about his availability, he said several teams have placed him on a "waiting list." "I definitely want to play, " said Brooks, who added that he's 100 percent healed after surgery in November to repair a torn pectoral muscle. "But I don't put all my focus into (football). I make sure I'm prepared to go in and do what needs to be done. But I can't force anybody to sign me." Perhaps the biggest reason Brooks remains unemployed, while other quarterbacks with far fewer accomplishments such as Houston's Sage Rosenfels or Miami's Josh McCown have jobs, is Brooks' outspokenness. Brooks was critical of Saints owner Tom Benson and the NFL for how they handled the team in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, even calling out both parties during an interview with CBS. He's not certain that's why he no longer has a place in the NFL, but he certainly would hope the league has a place for a quarterback at his prime age of 32 with 90 starts and 123 career touchdown passes. "I'd hate to say that, but it's very possible, " Brooks said. "Any athlete of color that has been outspoken in professional sports has been (ostracized). People don't take too kindly to that. It's almost like politics and sports. But it's really not politics, it's just the reality of what goes on." The next step If he never gets another chance to play professional football, Brooks is not bitter. He has enjoyed a fine life, one that has taken him from the poverty-stricken streets of Newport News to living in upscale neighborhoods and cashing big checks. When Brooks talks, he almost sounds content. He is proud of his work on the football field and in the community, where his Aaron Brooks Family Foundation has pushed for literacy and raised money for books in the inner city. "Hopefully I get that call, but I won't let this situation control who I am, " he said. "Football doesn't define me. It is just a part of my life." The other part of Brooks' life involves time as a developer in Virginia. He said there are plans in store for him and some partners to redevelop part of downtown Newport News, a city that shares many of the same social problems that plague New Orleans. Meanwhile, others will continue to ask why several of the NFL's one-time most promising black signal-callers can't land a job, and other less experienced and seemingly less skilled players have managed to stay on rosters. "You try to not look at it in that manner, but it is what it is being that we are very few in that position, " Brooks said. "To be in this situation where you are not getting picked up is kind of overwhelming. And you have quarterbacks of non-color who haven't played a down in the league to be around for so long." If the trend continues, the players said they might think about bringing up the issue with the NFL Players Association. "I'm looking around -- and I'm not the smartest guy -- but I see the common trend as it pertains to the guys who are getting the opportunity and the guys who aren't, " King said. "It's becoming more and more prevalent, but at some point, someone in the position of power is going to have to stand up and say something. . . . It's baffling. I don't understand it. "The bottom line is, can they play? You look at some guys around the league: . . . Bruce Gradkowski gets cut from the Bucs and gets a job the next day. There are a lot of guys around here that keep getting recycled, your Brian Grieses. And I say that from a standpoint if you look at their recent results, they are no different from an Aaron Brooks or anyone like that." when will we have a similar article about white receivers or runningbacks i wonder? who will stand up for them and even go to NFLPA?