After having the best season of his NFL career in 2011, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks was positioned to test the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Instead, he’ll stay right where he is.
Brooks, 27, has agreed to a new, six-year deal with San Francisco, reports Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, keeping the Niners’ linebacking corps intact on a defense that was No. 1 in the NFL against the rush and No. 4 overall.
The deal reportedly could be worth $44.5 million, with $17.5 million guaranteed.
Last season, Brooks’ contract was worth $1.2 million.
“I feel like this is where I should be,” Brooks told Branch. “These are the people that gave me a chance to go out there and get this contract. From the time I got into the NFL, I felt like I should have been starting.”
In his fifth NFL season and his third with the 49ers – and first as a starter -- Brooks had a career-high seven sacks and 49 tackles. Branch reported Brooks’ better conditioning in 2011 led to playing a career-best 16 games and 1,123 defensive snaps while becoming a starter after part-time duty in 2009 and 2010.
With the 49ers making their first big investment in the offseason to keep Brooks, the linebacking corps is solid heading into 2012. Brooks will be on the outside of All-Pro inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, with 2011 super rookie Aldon Smith expected to start opposite Brooks. Branch reports 49ers GM Trent Baalke has indicated Smith has the inside track to start over last year’s other starting outside linebacker, Parys Haralson.
The 6-foot-3, 259-pound Brooks says he’s grateful to the 49ers for giving him a chance to turn his career around. After being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals out of Virginia in 2006, he was waived by the Bengals in 2007 after injuries and an off-the-field incident.
Now, he’s keeping himself in better shape, found his faith – the Associated Press reported he was baptized recently – and staying with the team that gave him a second chance.
“I pretty much told myself that I would never let that happen again,” Brooks said of his troubles in Cincinnati and at Virginia, where he was kicked off the team. “Regardless of what goes on in my life, I will never let this happen again. I pretty much had to reevaluate myself as a player and a person to become the best person and the best football player I could be, because it’s not going to last forever.”
Now, with Brooks locked up, the 49ers can start addressing other players about to become free agents on their roster, including quarterback Alex Smith, safety Dashon Goldson and conerback Carlos Rogers.
Rogers, who made the Pro Bowl in his first season in San Francisco, said Monday he’s happy for Brooks to be staying.
“That’s good. I’m happy for him,” Rogers said on SiriusXM NFL Radio, adding, “He’s a big-time player on this team. I’m hoping we get something done so I don’t test free agency.”
The NFL free agency period begins March 13.