The best remaining free agent appears set to make a decision. New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower is expected to make a decision sometime on Wednesday, according to NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport. He is reportedly deciding between the Patriots, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The San Francisco 49ers signed linebacker Malcolm Smith to play on the weak side, but there have been some questions about who will play the strong side of the linebacker corps. Hightower could have plugged in there, with the ability to play on the line too when the team switches to their nickel. At this point, Ahmad Brooks is the likely favorite for the role in 2017. The team could still add someone via the draft or another free agent, but Brooks is the most capable option currently on the roster.
We have talked about Brooks as a cut candidate for much of the last three years, but the now 33-year old linebacker (his birthday was yesterday) has been a fairly consistent option during that time. He is not super splashy, and he still has the annoying offsides penalties, but he has been a rock on an otherwise questionable defense. Since joining the 49ers in 2009, he has had between six and eight sacks every season, except for one. He also does a lot of important, sometimes unnoticed things well. Most notably, he sets the edge against the run, and can drop into coverage fairly well. The 49ers can do worse from a football perspective than Ahmad Brooks.