Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Age may be the deciding factor in battle between Ahmad Brooks and Eli Harold

Aug 22, 2017 at 5:38 PM--

With 51.5 sacks, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks ranks third in team history behind just Bryant Young and Charles Haley when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Brooks had five or more sacks in each of his past eight seasons with the team. Yet, as he enters his 12th NFL season, Brooks finds himself in a competition for the team's starting Sam linebacker spot with Eli Harold, who is entering just his third NFL season.

Brooks will count $6.15 million against the team's salary cap in 2017. Harold, who is 10 years younger than Brooks, will count just over $823,000 against the cap. Despite his sack total, Brooks' overall production level has not matched his salary over the years. With the younger Harold itching to prove himself, some wonder if Brooks even has a place on the 49ers' 53-man roster.

On Sunday, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan insisted that a player's salary will not be a factor when determining who wins a starting job. He was asked the question with Brooks and Harold given as examples.

"I don't even know what their salaries are," Shanahan said during a conference call. "I try not to even look at that because I want to make the right decision. I don't like anything to skew me on that type of stuff. So, I try to go off what I see at practice. You want to know who's got the most upside and things like that. Who's going to be better throughout the year if given the opportunity? But, you also want to know who, when it's all said and done, who's going to affect your win-loss record the most. Those are the things that I look at personally.

"You don't always want to think who's the best guy for Week 1. Who's the best guy for the 2017 49ers? I try to simplify my thoughts in that way. That's why I really don't find out about salaries until I've already made a decision."

With Shanahan and general manager John Lynch at the onset of their six-year contracts with the 49ers, there is no urgency to throw Brooks into the starting lineup because he has the most experience.

On Monday, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee joined our "No Huddle" podcast and briefly explained why Brooks over Harold might not be as clear-cut as some believe.

"When you're in rebuilding mode like the 49ers are and you've got a six-year contract like John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan do, you're probably going to go with the younger guy a lot of times," Barrows said while discussing battles like the one between Brooks and Harold.

Brooks is used to competition. He entered the past three offseasons with his job seemingly at risk. The 49ers seemed eager to replace him and his bloated salary, but have never been able to put a younger and cheaper player in place to do so.

As a constant through the numerous coaching regimes that the 49ers have gone through in recent years, Brooks has started at least 13 games each season since becoming a starter in 2011. Harold started in Brooks' place during the 49ers' second preseason game and scored higher grades than Brooks in each of the team's two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus.

Brooks has managed to beat the odds in previous seasons but with Shanahan and Lynch seemingly eager to purge the holdovers from the previous regime, one has to wonder how much longer Brooks can prevail over those looking to take his place.

"We have to remember that only half of the roster was flipped from last year," said Zain Naqvi during the latest "No Huddle" podcast episode. "So, there's still another half of the roster that has to go in terms of them wanting to get some of these old-regime guys out and their own guys in.

"I really feel like it takes two seasons for a coach to really set up his own system. The reason why is because the first year, you're kind of clearing out house from the old coach and the old GM and things like that and you're trying to set the foundation for your own scheme. And in the second year, you've had a full offseason to get your guys in and your guys acclimated to the system."

This offseason, Brooks has survived longer than half of his teammates from last year. With the 49ers looking to rebuild and a completely revamped roster filled with younger players all around him, Brooks' time with the team may be nearing an end.

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