SANTA CLARA – Linebacker Ahmad Brooks’ nine-season run with the 49ers is over.
The 49ers informed Brooks on Friday morning he would no longer be on the team. He was not on the practice field, as the 49ers held their final workout before departing on Saturday to face the Minnesota Vikings in the third exhibition game for both teams.
“Doing it right now is more just in the best interest for Ahmad," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "It’s a real tough decision. John (Lynch) and I had gone back and forth with it the last few days. Once we really came to the conclusion he wasn’t going to be a part of our final 53, we weren’t going to keep him around just to let him know nine days from now.
"We know there’s a lot of teams that will be interested in him. So we gave him that opportunity to go out and find them.”
The 49ers officially announced Brooks’ release right before the 1 p.m. deadline to send in transactions to the league office. The 49ers held off as long as they could to give them time to gauge if any teams had interest in acquiring Brooks in a trade. Brooks is free to sign with any team.
“We would like to thank Ahmad for his nine years of service and contributions to the 49ers,” general manager Lynch said in a statement. “In that time, he played a significant role on some formidable defensive units that helped this team achieve great success. We feel good about the depth and competition along our defensive front and believe that by making this decision now it will give Ahmad a head start on exploring his options with other teams. We wish him and his family nothing but the best.”
Brooks ranks No. 3 all-time in sacks in 49ers history with 51.5 sacks behind Bryant Young (89.5) and Charles Haley (66.5).
Eli Harold, 23, who started the 49ers’ exhibition game last week against the Denver Broncos has won the job over Brooks, who was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2013. Brooks was scheduled to earn $4.45 million in base salary this season.
Brooks, 33, was a two-time, second-team All-Pro selection on the 49ers’ defenses that led the way toward three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship game from 2011 to ’13.
He recorded all but two of his 53.5 career sacks with the 49ers after breaking into the NFL as a supplemental draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006. The 49ers claimed Brooks off waivers in 2008, and he spent the entire season on the inactive list.
After serving in a backup role for two more seasons, Brooks became the full-time starter for the 49ers in 2011.
On Thursday, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was asked about the competition between Brooks and Harold. Saleh had strong words of praise for Harold.
“Eli’s very athletic,” Saleh said. “I mean, they’re both built the same. If you’re looking at Eli and Ahmad, they’re very athletic. They’re both very strong, they both love the game. So, it’s a good problem.
“You’ve got two very good football players. That thing’s not even close to done, yet. But having another person who can add value to that position has been a bonus. So for Eli, his athleticism, his violence, his love for the game, that’s all been an exciting part for him.”
Veteran Dekoda Watson also appears to have a strong chance to make the 49ers’ 53-man roster as a backup at the strong-side linebacker position (Sam), as well as special teams. Aaron Lynch and rookie Pita Taumoepenu are among the players who can also play the position.
“Eli’s our starter right now at Sam linebacker," Shanahan said. "I feel like we do have some other depth there, too. A number of guys have done a good job. Guys like Dekoda. We have some versatility there where not all the guys that are listed there. We also have some guys who have the ability to play there who aren’t listed there. So I feel good about our depth at Sam and the guys that stepped up and done a good job.”