49ers

Free agent market justifies Brooks' value to 49ers

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Free agent market justifies Brooks' value to 49ers

Before the unexpected retirements of Justin Smith and Patrick Willis last offseason – and months away from the abrupt end to Aldon Smith’s tenure with the 49ers – it appeared as if Ahmad Brooks’ career with the organization was winding down.

Brooks earned Pro Bowl recognition after the 2012 and ’13 seasons. But his status was in question after his production slipped to six sacks in 2014. Plus, at the time, his scheduled salary seemed exorbitant.

Brooks turned 33 on Monday. And while his sack total only rose from six in 2014 to 6.5 last season, it’s now difficult to view him as overpaid.

All indications are that Brooks’ spot on the 49ers is safe for at least another season, in part, because the 49ers simply do not have proven, young pass-rushers ready to usurp him on the depth chart. After the 2014 season, the 49ers lost so many of the team's core defensive players through unexpected attrition that they could not afford to part ways with Brooks.

Now, an argument is even there to be made that Brooks is underpaid.

The salary cap has risen more then $32 million since the eve of the 2014 league year. A salary de-escalator tied to Brooks' 2015 sack numbers reduces his scheduled salary this season to approximately $4 million.

As it turns out, based on the first couple days of NFL free agency, that is a bargain for a pass-rusher who can generate about a half-dozen sacks in a season.

After all, the New York Giants signed Olivier Vernon to a five-year contract that averages $17 million annually with $40 million fully guaranteed. The Raiders secured Bruce Irvin to a four-year deal at $9.25 million a year with $14.5 million fully guaranteed.

Vernon, 25, who had the luxury of playing on the same Miami Dolphins defensive front as Ndamukong Suh (not to mention seven games with Cameron Wake), recorded 7.5 sacks last season. Irvin, 28, broke into the NFL with eight sacks as a rookie. Since then, his numbers have fallen to two sacks in 2013, 6.5 in '14 and 5.5 last season.

Even if the 49ers were tempted to get younger and less-expensive at outside linebacker, they do not appear to have the luxury of casting aside Brooks right now.

Brooks and Aaron Lynch were far-and-away the 49ers' best pass-rushers last season. The team’s young linebackers, Corey Lemonier and Eli Harold, combined for zero sacks.

The 49ers could have made a splash in free agency and replaced Brooks. And, certainly, Vernon and Irvin are younger than Brooks and should have more seasons ahead of them. But they were far more expensive and not nearly productive enough to justify it.

Five 49ers to watch: Jimmy Garoppolo needs to do more

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USATSI

Five 49ers to watch: Jimmy Garoppolo needs to do more

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers take the field on Sunday looking to rebound from a loss for the first time this season.

The 49ers (8-1) still lead the NFC West by a half-game over the Seattle Seahawks, who snapped San Francisco's wining streak with a 27-24 victory in overtime on Monday night.

Now, the 49ers will face the Arizona Cardinals for the second time in three weeks.

The clubs met on Oct. 31, a game in which the 49ers hold on for a 28-25 victory over the Cardinals. Here are five key players for the 49ers in this Week 11 matchup:

5. LT Justin Skule

The sixth-round draft pick is back in the starting lineup after veteran left tackle Joe Staley underwent surgery to repair a dislocated and fractured finger. Skule started six games earlier this season in place of Staley before he was inactive on Monday night against the Seahawks.

Skule surrendered four sacks and 13 total pressures in his six starts, and he will go up against one of the more difficult assignments on the schedule – a return matchup against Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones.

Jones has registered double-digit sacks in five consecutive seasons, including this year with 11.5. Jones and Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett are tied for the lead in the NFL.

Coach Kyle Shanahan will do all he can to take the heat off Skule, but there will be plenty of instances in which he must be able to hold up one-on-one against one of the best in the league.

4. SS Jaquiski Tartt

The 49ers saw what worked for the Cardinals in Week 9, and you can be sure the formula will remain mostly the same on Sunday.

Arizona’s offensive game plan called for a heavy dose of running back Kenyan Drake, both as a runner and pass catcher. Drake had 15 rushing attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown. He also caught all four of his pass targets for 52 yards.

Tartt will have major responsibilities in both areas. He will play in the box on the early downs, where he can be the eighth defender against the run. He must also quickly diagnose the Cardinals’ screen game and keep those plays to a minimum.

The 49ers’ pass rush was held mostly at bay against the Cardinals because coach Kliff Kingsbury designed a game plan that called for quarterback Kyler Murray to take short drops and deliver the ball quickly. Tartt might have an opportunity to jump some of those shallow routes.

3. WR Deebo Samuel

The 49ers have not been able to find consistency at wide receiver, aside from newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders. But Sanders is questionable for Sunday with a ribs injury. If he plays, he might not be at 100 percent.

Samuel is showing signs of being a trusted target for Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie.

Samuel, a second-round draft pick from South Carolina, has 30 catches for 339 yards and one touchdown. He had a strong showing on Monday night, but had a bad drop on a play that he might’ve been able to turn into a long touchdown.

With the 49ers not finding reliable answers with Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, in particular, they will need more and more production from Samuel.

2. LB Fred Warner

The season-ending injury to linebacker Kwon Alexander left a large void in the middle of the 49ers’ defense.

Fred Warner did a good job of compensating for the loss of Alexander, who proved to be a solid playmaker and an invaluable member of the team for the energy he brings to the defense. On Monday, Warner did it all.

Warner registered 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He was disappointed in his own play on Oct. 31 when he missed two tackles and made some assignment errors in the first meeting against the Cardinals.

The next step for Warner is becoming a reliable player every game.

"He had a very good game and now it goes back to consistency being the truest measure of performance,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He’s got to go stack it up and do it again.”

1. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo cannot do it all by himself, but he’s going to have to do more than usual.

Garoppolo had his best game on Oct. 31 against the Cardinals. He threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers’ 28-25 victory in Glendale, Arizona

Then, he followed that up with a stinker against the Seattle Seahawks. To be sure, Garoppolo did no receive much support from his teammates on offense. The pass protection was problematic, and the receivers had plenty of difficulty holding onto the ball.

But Garoppolo was also off the mark on many of the throws in which his receivers should have come up with catches. He was also helped out by Seattle’s defense, which did not hold onto a would-be interception or two.

The 49ers do not figure to have tight end George Kittle available, and Emmanuel Sanders’ availability might not be known until Sunday morning. Garoppolo will have to show trust in the team’s other target, and they have to hold up their end of the bargain, too.

Steve Young gives take on Kyle Shanahan's overtime strategy vs. Seahawks

Steve Young gives take on Kyle Shanahan's overtime strategy vs. Seahawks

Hindsight is always 20/20.

Kyle Shanahan knows that, but that didn't stop the critics for coming after his play-calling after the 49ers' 27-24 overtime loss to the Seahawks at Levi's Stadium in Week 9. 

During the overtime period, Shanahan elected not to go for fourth-and-1 from the Seahawks' 29-yard line, opting instead to trot out rookie kicked Chase McLaughlin for a 47-yard attempt. The kick never had a shot and the Seahawks had life. But the 49ers' defense stood tall and forced a punt, giving quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo the ball back with 1:50 to go.

Shanahan, always the aggressor, opted to throw the ball three times -- all of which were incomplete -- burning only 17 seconds off the clock before punting the ball back the Seahawks. Quarterback Russell Wilson marched Seattle into field-goal range and Jason Myers drilled the kick to give the Niners their first loss.

Fans were critical of Shanahan for not running the ball, and giving the Seahawks time to win the game. Cornerback Richard Sherman doesn't have time for "armchair coaches" who want to play for ties. Niners legend Steve Young wants to remind fans that Shanahan always has been an aggressive coach -- that's part of the reason the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI -- so fans can't all of a sudden expect something different.

"Remember, Kyle Shanahan in many ways, the Super Bowl got away from the whole team, but him especially, because he’s so aggressive,” Young told KNBR. “And when we signed him that’s what you get. Don’t all of the sudden go, ‘aw I wish that he would’ve played for the tie.'

"I'm just saying that we signed a guy that goes for broke," Young continued before pivoting to the fourth-and-1 decision. "To your other point, why didn't you go for it on fourth and a half yard? I was sitting there and this young kid shows up and splits three right down the middle. You couldn't pick a side on any of the kicks. Right down the middle. To win the game, you are so -- it's gone back and forth. You'd won it three times, you'd lost it three times, you just want to end it. I get it."

While Young understands the decisions, he would have gone for it on fourth-and-1 and would have at least run the ball once on the final possession.

"I think I would’ve gone for the half yard. I think. That’s what I felt, that was my instinct," Young said. “I would like them to have 35 less seconds if we have to hand them the ball back. To hand them the ball back with having only taking 22 or whatever it was off -- you would never repeat that. You would never say, 'There's 1:27 at the end of overtime, I'm not going to hand it back with 1:05.' That's not part of the plan."

[RELATED: Warner does it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon's absence]

In the end, Shanahan's decisions backfired, but if McLaughlin makes the kick like he did his first three on the night then the conversation is totally different.

Shanahan is one of the NFL's best offensive minds, and the 49ers love his aggressiveness when calling plays. Sometimes things just don't break your way.