John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports



During the 2013 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers were in a back-and-forth battle with the New Orleans Saints. Late in the 4th quarter, Ahmad Brooks came off the left edge, nearly unblocked, with a clear shot on Drew Brees.

Brooks knocked the liquid Tide from Brees' uniform, causing a fumble that the 49ers recovered. The 49ers crew at R Bar, not yet with a pleasant afternoon buzz, erupted with cheer. The game was shifting back to our favor, and the gods were clearly with us!

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The plasma screens replayed the hit in slow-motion, and every Cliff and Norm in the bar set his or her drink down for a second to watch a split second of beautiful violence.

In the midst of our glee, a flag landed on the artificial turf. The hit that turned Brees' neck into pulpy custard was far too rough. The 49ers crew cursed the pigskin fates.

For a time, Brooks was an up-and-coming outside linebacker for the 49ers. Brooks earned back-to-back 2nd Team AP nominations in 2012 and 2013. He increased his overall production and snap counts with the 49ers, the organization rewarded Brooks with a $44.5 million contract in February 2012. In 2012, Pro Football Focus ranked Brooks an overall 84.8 as an edge defender. That ranking fell each year, and now he's at a limp 46.2, the lowest among the 49ers' projected starters. Unfortunately, the 49ers have not reaped but a few wheat pennies from this investment.

Something unknown happened to Brooks in 2014. To start the season, Brooks committed three penalties in a row during the opening game against Dallas. As the season wore on, fans saw a drop in tackles, snaps, and an increasingly bad attitude. In week 11, when the 49ers battled the New York Giants, Brooks came off the field and threw his helmet. Then, in an odd twist, Brooks sat on the bench and removed his cleats. (Source) Another report cited Brooks and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula having an intense discussion. (Source)

Toward the end of the 2015 season, during a game against Cleveland, Brooks was throwing punches at Isaiah Crowell and then slapped the ball out of Jim Dray's hands following a touchdown. (Source) Once the referee called the unsportsmanlike conduct, Brooks found himself on the bench.

Brooks' total snap counts was a paltry 550 in 2014, down from a high of 1,045 total snaps in 2012. In 2015, Brooks only played a total of 757 snaps on defense and special teams, 288 fewer than in 2012. He went from being a reliable linebacker to a liability on defense.

Despite consistent speculation about Brooks' future with the 49ers, he made the roster last season.

This year, with general manager John Lynch exorcising all demons from the previous regime, the team has decided to hang onto Brooks for the moment.

In fact, Brooks received praise from head coach Kyle Shanahan this week during OTAs. "He's (Brooks) is getting them (first team reps) because he deserves them."

Let's cede to what we don't know about Brooks since the close of the 2016 season:

  • We don't know what he's like in a huddle or the locker room
  • We don't know if Lynch is giving him one last shot to grace the chunky Levi's Stadium turf
  • We don't know if Brooks realized he needs to play better

At some point, between Patrick Willis' retirement and NaVorro Bowman's injuries, Brooks heard the opportunity to be a team leader gently rapping on his locker door; but he took it as a nagging visitor and nothing more. Brooks provided nothing but an empty scarlet uniform. In fact, in 2015, he only had 28 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

Brooks misses a key theme in sports: opportunity. Ask Wally Pipp about his headache. I'm sure his ghost is damned with an eternal migraine for sitting out a game and then watching Lou Gehrig start the next 2,130 in a row.

Rather than lead, Brooks has been a streaky player who's amassed nearly 70 penalties as a 49er. In comparison, Willis ended his career with nine penalties and Bowman has only tallied 16 infractions thus far.

Pittsburg Steeler James Harrison is one of the better edge rushers in the NFL. He's been playing since 2002 and accumulated 567 tackles and 81.5 sacks over his career. He's maintained his level of play, and he's only drawn a yellow flag about 50 times. The AP has named him a 1st or 2nd team player four times. He's powerful, constant, fearsome and a leader: all qualities that Ahmad Brooks lacks.

If you ever played a high school sport, you remember that guy who shouldn't have been in the starting lineup. It's possible the second string player wasn't very good, but it's likely the guy played due to an unknown rule that one senior gets the right to start, no matter his skill level.

That man for the 49ers is Ahmad Brooks.

Brooks needs to rekindle the fire that drove him to his best in 2012 and 2013; otherwise, he'll find himself on a crowded waiver wire after the fourth preseason game.