For peerless Eagles guard Brandon Brooks, anxiety and injury are no match | Marcus Hayes
The stigma of mental illness and the challenge of debilitating injury only fueled the best lineman in football.
It is a triumph by every measure.
Brandon Brooks on Monday earned a 4-year, $56.2 million contract extension that will tie him to the Eagles through 2024. The contract’s value, as reported by the agency that represents him, will make Brooks the highest-paid guard in football, which is fitting, since he is the best offensive lineman in football. He will be the highest-paid Eagles offensive lineman, which is fitting, since, logically, he is the Eagles’ best offensive lineman.
Those are just the tangible elements of this triumph. The intangible elements are much more important.
How his mind-over-matter rehabilitation of his ruptured Achilles from last year’s playoffs turned what might have been a year-long ordeal into a 9-month miracle.
How his confrontation of what he called “mental illness” turned a good career into a great one.
How the culture of inclusion and acceptance Doug Pederson nurtured with his Philadelphia Eagles created an environment where Brooks could admit to his condition and address openly address it.
How Brooks has proved that mental health matters as much as physical fitness, and how his discussion of his issue, as a big, tough football player, has helped dozens of others address their issues and deal with the stigmas associated with them.
How mentally healthy people, with proper support and treatment, can be their best selves.
Brooks suffers from an anxiety condition that can be debilitating. On the eve of game days, he sometimes would vomit continually for 24 hours. Several times he wound up in the hospital, dehydrated and terrified. Undiagnosed, it cost him five games early in his career.
He sought perfection to the point of paralysis. It made him sick to his stomach. It still does. But he figured out the problem in 2016, and, with therapy and medication, now controls it. He accepts it.
And he talks about it.
Has that made a difference in his game?
“One hundred percent,” Brooks told NFL Films.
Brooks signed a 5-year, $40 million free-agent contract to leave Houston for Philadelphia in 2016. It was a recognition of his considerable abilities but it also became source of ever-increasing pressure. On game days, darkness descended more completely than ever.
With the help of Dr. Gary Dorshimer, then the Eagles’ team internist, Brooks realized that it wasn’t an ulcer, and it wasn’t food poisoning. It was anxiety -- a common, manageable issue.
“It’s like somebody threw you in the deep end of the pool and you couldn’t swim,” Brooks told NFL Films. And the treatment? “It’s like somebody threw you a life vest."
Brooks’ chief support has come from a pair of unlikely sources: Jeff Stoutland, the gruff offensive line coach, and right tackle Lane Johnson, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense Texan. To be fair, Stoutland and Johnson are only unlikely supporters on the surface. Both are exceptionally compassionate.
“I love him so much,” Stoutland said. “He’s having the best season of his life right now.”
His best season by far, if you go by profootballfocus.com. Through nine games, Brooks’ current blocking grade of 93.4 not only is his best by almost six points -- and not only is the best among all regular starting linemen by four points -- but if the season ended today, it would be the best grade among all linemen last year, too. He’s not just improving. He’s improving by leaps and bounds.
This is remarkable, because, at 30, most NFL players are lining up retirement gigs. Not Brooks. He began taking kung fu classes in March, right in the middle of his Achilles rehab. At 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds, Brooks didn’t really need to become slicker or nimbler, but he returned to the Eagles with better hands and better balance. It’s just one more tool in the ever-growing toolbox he and Stoutland have been building for four years.
“The use of his hands in protection is -- when you watch him, how tight his hands are, how he’s able to firm up in the protection,” Stoutland said. “He’s using different tools. Set-lines. He’s embraced all of that stuff. I could go on and on. I could sit here for an hour."
Stoutland said he uses Brooks as a template for left guard Isaac Seumalo, a fourth-year player who, like Brooks, was an athletic third-round pick who needed time to develop. That development accelerated when Brooks got his mind right and stopped thinking about the last play, or the next play; only the current play.
“It seems that way to me,” Stoutland said. "He’s playing one play at a time. I see a locked-in guy. A guy just zoned-in on what he’s doing."
Brooks’ friendship with Johnson has benefited Johnson, who admits to battling anxiety himself. The pair is even more synchronous than you can see, as they pass off stunting linemen or combine to bulldoze a defensive tackle.
On game days they rise at about the same hour and regurgitate almost in unison.
They do not share a room.
Brooks did not appear in the locker room Monday, but he tweeted a message of gratitude to his franchise and fans.
Why do Brooks’ issues matter?
Because, without the anxiety, and without the resolution, and without the transparency, there are no Pro Bowls. There is no $56.2 million extension. There is no $30 million guarantee if not for the way Brooks handled himself Dec. 14, 2016, when he stood before the assembled press and jumped into a pool without a life vest.
“It’s nothing I’m ashamed of,” Brooks said then. “I’ll get the help that I need and life will go on.”
He got the help. He won a Super Bowl. He was picked for the last two Pro Bowls. He’s the best lineman in football, and he’s richer than he ever imagined he’d be.
Life didn’t just go on.
Life got a whole lot better.