Since joining the 49ers in 2009, linebacker Ahmad Brooks has been both a productive player and an expensive problem.
When he became a full-time starter in 2011, Brooks immediately made an impact, collecting seven sacks and being a consistent disruptive force on the edge. And, as he heads into the start of the 49ers training camp later this month, Brooks is coming off a season in which he tied for the team lead in sacks with 6½. For a team in need of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, Brooks, a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder entering his 10th NFL season, remains a talent.
But when the analytics website Pro Football Focus evaluated the 49ers’ needs at the start of this offseason, PFF noted that with Aaron Lynch at one outside linebacker and several other players competing for playing time at the position – including Tank Carradine and Eli Harold – it might be the time for the Niners to move on from Brooks.
“Thirty-five-year-old Ahmad Brooks could be cut, as his best days are behind him, wrote PFF analyst Greg DePalma. “Brooks can save the team $6.5 million in (salary-cap) space if he departs a year early.”
Brooks signed a six-year deal in 2012 that will end after the 2017 season.
When camp opens, the 49ers will have a number of position battles to watch, with the biggest being at quarterback. Right tackle, right guard, wide receiver, cornerback and Brooks’ outside linebacker spot will also be among the jobs up for grabs.
Conor Orr of NFL.com recently noted that Brooks’ place on the roster certainly appears in jeopardy.
“Niners fans have been discussing the possibility of ditching Brooks’ balky contract ever since he signed it, and this might be the time to do it,” he wrote. “(Chip) Kelly is going to need a fresh, young rotation on defense and the team already has players like Eli Harold and Tank Carradine, who reportedly is meshing well with his new(ish) responsbiliities as a stand-up edge rusher, in the queue.”
But, Brooks is a survivor. His off-field issues, volatile temperament (including clashes with coaches) and large salary have put him on the potential chopping block before and he’s survived. But, he goes into camp with an unspecified nagging injury that kept him out of some spring practices. If that injury lingers, it could be one more domino stacked against him.