The folks at Pro Football Focus are currently running through NFL position groups and ranking out the five best and worst contracts. They got to edge rusher on Friday, and they have San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks listed among the worst. They have him as the second worst, with the following analysis:
Years remaining: Two
Average remaining cap hit (per season): $8.32 million
Year he can realistically be cut: 2017
Brooks was playing well when he first signed his six-year, $37 million contract, but he hasn’t made the sort of impact required since 2012. Not since 2013 has he graded positively as a pass-rusher. Brooks managed only 35 combined pressures in 399 snaps a year ago, finishing with a 47.6 pass-rush grade.
Cap hits tend to increase in long-term contracts. That’s the case with Brooks’ deal, which paid him an average of only around $5 million in the first four years. San Francisco isn’t short of cap space, but they lack talent throughout the roster. At the age of 32, the 49ers need to find a contingency plan for an underperforming veteran.
We’ve been talking about whether or not the 49ers will cut Ahmad Brooks for several years now. In his prime, I saw him as an incredibly underrated outside linebacker. His offsides penalties were frustrating, but he was an otherwise complete package as an outside linebacker. He could get to the passer, he could drop into coverage, and he could set the edge against the run. However, the last couple years, while he still does some of this stuff, he also has become more of a headache, getting into sideline tiffs over playing time.
Brooks has a cap hit of $8,005,000 this season, and $8,648,750 next season. If the 49ers cut him this year, they save $5,656,250. Since it would be a post-June 1 cut, the dead money would hit over the next two years. They would have $2,348,750 in dead money this year, and then $848,750 in dead money next year.
The 49ers head into this season with an OLB depth chart that includes Brooks, Aaron Lynch, Eli Harold, Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Marcus Rush, Jason Fanaika, and Lenny Jones. They signed the last two as UDFAs this year, but otherwise did not invest in the position. DeForest Buckner is likely viewed as a guy who can add something to the pass rush this season, but the OLBs will be primarily building on last year.
Harold got first team snaps throughout the offseason workout program because Brooks was dealing with an unknown injury. Additionally, Tank has moved fully to outside linebacker. He is likely viewed primarily as an edge rusher, but he did get some offseason work dropping into coverage. I would be surprised if Brooks was released or traded during training camp, but if Harold and/or Tank emerge as a legitimate presence at outside linebacker, it would not be the most shocking development.
If this actually did happen, my guess would be that Harold has taken over the starting role, Tank is a nickel pass rusher, and one of Marcus Rush, Jason Fanaika or Lenny Jones ends up on the 53-man roster.