You know what Brandon Brooks did last June after he tore his left Achilles tendon while running 60-yard shuttles at the NovaCare Complex?
He laughed. That’s right, he laughed.
“People were looking at me and saying, ‘Why are you laughing? You just tore your Achilles,’ “ the Eagles’ three-time Pro Bowl right guard said Thursday. “I was like, it’s life. Stuff happens. I’ve experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in my career. The Achilles was just another thing I had to overcome.”
Brooks has had to overcome a lot lately. He tore his right Achilles in the first quarter of a 2018 playoff loss to New Orleans. He made a super-fast recovery and was back for the 2019 season opener.
He had one of the best seasons of his career in 2019 but separated his right shoulder in the Eagles’ regular-season finale against the Giants and needed surgery.
Then, last June, pop went the left Achilles.
“When it happened the first time, I started hearing things like, ‘What kind of player is he going to be [when he comes back] and how long is he going to be out?’ It’s a 9-to-12-month injury,” Brooks said.
“When this one happened, I was like, I’ve been down this road before. I know what to expect. I know how it’s supposed to feel at each checkpoint. I just told myself, ‘Let me see if I can beat the timeline again and get back and help the guys.’
“When I got cleared from the second one, there never was a doubt in my mind that I could come back because I had done it and was the best at what I did. All it is, is just another goal that I have to reach.”
Pro Football Focus graded Brooks as the best offensive lineman in the league in 2019 after his Achilles injury. Not the best guard. Not the best interior lineman. The best lineman.
But he will turn 32 in August, and there are questions -- not only about whether the compilation of injuries will take a toll on his level of play, but also about whether yet another major injury is waiting around the next turn.
Even Pro Football Focus has questions. In its spring positional rankings, it has Brooks rated as only the eighth-best guard in the league, behind the Colts’ Quenton Nelson, the Cowboys’ Zack Martin, the Chiefs’ Joe Thuney, the Browns’ Joel Bitonio, Washington’s Brandon Scherff, the Bucs’ Ali Marpet, and the Patriots’ Shaq Mason.
In March, SI.com’s Albert Breer reported that the Eagles had floated Brooks’s name in trade discussions. Brooks said Thursday that the report was true.
“How do I feel about it?” he said. “This is a business, man. The second you lose sight of that, that’s when it gets to you.
“For me, I get it, right? I’m an older guy. I was coming off the injury. At the time, we were cap-strapped. I make a lot of money. So, I get it. It didn’t hurt my feelings.”
While he understands it’s a business, he still wishes the Eagles would have told him they were considering trading him rather than having to hear it from his mother, of all people.
“It would’ve been nice to get a phone call [from the Eagles] saying, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on,’” he said. “Other than that, though, like I said, it’s a business, and I never lose sight of that.
“I don’t use it as fuel because the trade [possibility] didn’t make me doubt myself. It just is what it is. If I get traded and have to go somewhere else to be the best, then I’ll go somewhere else to be the best.
“We’ve seen some of the greats be with their organization for like 15 years and then get released and have to play somewhere else. So I never lose sight of that.”
Brooks’ 2021 cap number is just $7 million. But it jumps to $19.4 million next year, including a $13.4 million base salary.
If Brooks can stay healthy, if his best buddy -- 31-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson, who missed nine games last season after needing two ankle surgeries -- also can stay healthy, if they both can play at the level they’ve played in the past, the Eagles very well could have one of the best offensive lines in the league this season. But those are significant ifs.
Johnson admitted last week that he and Brooks are “in a spot where we have a lot to prove.” He said, “When you get into your 30s, that’s when the doubt creeps in. That’s when a lot of guys hit the end of the road.
“I feel a sense of urgency for the both of us to go out there and really prove ourselves.”
Brooks said the only doubt he feels is from people on the outside. He sees no reason why he and Johnson can’t again be the best right guard-right tackle combination in the league this year.
“Me and Lane, within ourselves, there is no doubt,” he insisted. “The biggest thing that everybody is forgetting is that I tore my Achilles before, and when I came back, I was the best. Period. So, with that being said, what tells you it will be any different this time? That’s exactly the way I feel.
“As far as proving ourselves, yeah, I guess there can be a debate about proving whether you’re going to be healthy, proving that you can make it through 17 games and things like that. But there’s no, ‘Hey, we’re in our 30s. We’re coming off injuries. We don’t know if we can do it anymore.’ We’ve done it. We’ll be fine.”
Asked how long he thinks he can continue to play at the elite level he played at in 2019, Brooks said, “As long as I decide to. That’s how I feel. Each year, I’ve only gotten better.
“As long as I decide to play, I think I can maintain this level, if not better.”
Brooks has changed his body for his ninth NFL season. He is lighter, leaner, and looks more like an edge rusher than an interior lineman. In 2019, he played at about 340 pounds. He appears to have shed at least 20-25 pounds. He’s got the body fat percentage of a Navy SEAL.
He has been doing a lot of boxing and jiujitsu since the second Achilles tear.
“Before football, I did martial arts growing up,” Brooks said. “It was always a hidden passion that I had.
“When it comes to boxing and jiujitsu, we’ve all been to high school and seen the wrestlers. The wrestlers always were in the best shape of all the athletes because of the training they did.”
Hand placement is important in jiujitsu. The same goes for battling defensive linemen. “And boxing, it’s about footwork,” Brooks said. “Jumping rope, moving out of the way, getting your hand speed right. I’ve always tried to find different ways to keep my game fresh, keep me fresh in my training in the offseason.”