Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has been an underrated but valuable player for the 49ers since becoming a full-time starter in 2011.
He was durable (he didn’t miss a game from 2011-2013) and dynamic. Though overshadowed by deluxe pass rusher Aldon Smith on the other side of the field and by Pro Bowl inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, Brooks was a playmaker. Since 2009 – when he began playing a prominent role as a reserve – Brooks has 39 sacks, three interceptions and 10 forced fumbles.
But Brooks, 30, is coming off his worst season and could be a candidate to soon be released by San Francisco.
The 49ers desperately need more space under the salary cap, and Brooks is expected to count $6 million against the cap in 2015. Plus, Brooks had a couple of disagreements with the coaching staff in 2014 and lost playing time to rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch.
The 49ers could release Brooks and have the lower-priced Lynch step into the role. Lynch, in fact, might have been the more productive player in 2014. He tied Brooks for the team lead in sacks with six, while playing fewer snaps. Pro Football Focus, according to stats cited by SB Nation, noted that Lynch’s pass-rush efficiency was tied for the 10th best in the league, while Brooks was 28th.
If the 49ers cut ties with Brooks, they have both Lynch and third-year pro Corey Lemonier as backups, as well as Dan Skuta (should they choose to re-sign him).
Brooks, too, wasn’t happy with his situation in 2014, so he may be eager to go elsewhere. He could have several more productive years remaining in his career, and the situation may have soured too much for him in the Bay Area.
When the 49ers played the Giants in November, for instance, Brooks had a sideline disagreement with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula – who just happens to be the new head coach. He had been benched, and said he didn’t take it well. In fact, he apologized to Tomsula and his teammates for the way he acted.
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted recently, the 49ers’ two outside linebackers, Aldon Smith and Brooks, are scheduled to count about $17 million against the salary cap in 2015, a large total, which he believes will mean one of them should be released this offseason, with the cutting of Brooks “more likely.”
If that’s the case, the 49ers likely would add another 3-4 edge pass rusher in the draft. It’s an area where general manager Trent Baalke has been adept at getting talent – Smith and Lynch, for instance – and the draft is deep in that area this year.