Ahmad Brooks brings versatility to Packers' defense
GREEN BAY – Ted Thompson had more than a month to evaluate his outside linebacker depth chart in camp. Three days before finalizing his initial 2017 roster, the Green Bay Packers general manager revealed his findings.
The Packers agreed to terms Wednesday on a one-year deal with outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, a source told PackersNews.com. The contract includes a $3.5 million base salary and could pay Brooks up to $5 million, according to NFL Network, which was first to report the deal.
It’s similar to the one-year, $5 million contract the Packers gave Nick Perry in 2016.
Brooks, 33, spent the last nine seasons with the 49ers and ranks third in franchise history with 51½ career sacks. He was released Friday so the team could avoid paying his $6.1 million cap figure for the 2017 season. Brooks made his first free-agent trip with the Packers on Tuesday.
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Outside linebackers coach Winston Moss offered strong, public approval for Brooks.
“He can do everything that we would ask him to do in our scheme,” Moss said. “He can play to the tight end side, he can play to the open-end side. He can play the outside linebacker, he can play the elephant. If he were to be placed on our roster — however that decision goes down — he could come right in and fit right in.”
Brooks arrives at a time when the Packers’ outside linebacker depth chart already is dealing with minor injuries. Clay Matthews (groin tightness) and Nick Perry (ankle) left Saturday night’s exhibition in Denver early. Jayrone Elliott also left early after dealing with back spasms the past two weeks.
Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged the Packers’ lack of depth at outside linebacker was apparent during Saturday’s exhibition at Denver.
“We got a little thin there,” McCarthy said, “with the pass rushers going out of the game there fast, with Clay, Nick and Jayrone going out.”
Even with everyone healthy, Brooks’ presence could have a major impact on the Packers’ depth chart, and not just for his production. He figures to be the top backup on the edge behind Matthews and Perry, relieving pressure from Elliott and Fackrell.
The Packers entered camp needing to replace half of their “big four” outside linebackers from last season. They lost Julius Peppers and Datone Jones in free agency, opening spots in the rotation. The hope was Elliott and Fackrell would fill those slots seamlessly. Both are dynamic athletes, if also lacking strength.
Through three preseason weeks, Elliott and Fackrell had combined for five tackles and no sacks in 105 snaps. Both still figure to see their snaps increase this season, but neither seized the top backup spot.
“The reality,” Matthews said last week, “is that the pass rush this year, the majority of the impact that we anticipate has got to come from me and Nick.”
Now the Packers can add Brooks into the mix.
Despite his age, Brooks has shown no drop in production. He had at least five sacks in each of the past eight seasons, with a career high of 8½ in 2013. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 2013 and was voted AP Second-Team All-Pro for the second straight season.
"Ahmad can still do things," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after San Francisco released him. "I think everyone knows that and he's going to help somebody this year. But it really comes down to the final 53. And I'm starting to get a better feel for what that is now. And it's taken me some time, it's taken (general manager) John (Lynch) and me some time, because we got to know what our group was like, and it's really been nothing against Ahmad.”
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But Brooks is involved in an ongoing legal matter. The Sacramento Bee reported Brooks faces a pretrial motion Sept. 29 (at which time a trial date will be set) after being charged in 2015 by the Santa Clara, Calif., district attorney's office with misdemeanor sexual battery in connection with an incident at the home of former 49ers teammate Ray McDonald in 2014.
Before Wednesday, the Packers’ only addition at outside linebacker was selecting Vince Biegel in the fourth round. Biegel has missed the entire off-season, not practicing since breaking his foot on the second day of rookie orientation in May. With Brooks’ arrival, the Packers have the flexibility to be more patient with Biegel’s recovery from surgery.
Biegel has remained on the physically unable to perform list since camp opened, and a source told PackersNews.com it’s now probable he’ll stay on the PUP to start the season.
If Biegel stays on the PUP, he would be unable to practice for six weeks. He would then have a three-week window between Weeks 6 and 9 to be activated. If he isn’t activated in that three-week window, he would be lost for the entire season.
There was hope as recently as last week he might return from foot surgery as early as this week, but Biegel’s recovery has taken longer than expected. On Tuesday, Moss said it would be a “major challenge” for Biegel to provide much value on the 53-man roster early in the season without participating in off-season activities or camp.
“If Vince Biegel was to be placed on the 53,” Moss said, “and we were in position get him ready to play, he would only be placed in situations where he could, at best, put himself in position to help the team. We wouldn’t call upon him to do something out of his range, out of his comfort zone, something that he’s not ready for. We’re not going to ask him to do anything that he cannot do before he’s ready to. We would all love for him be in game-ready, be in season-ready condition, but that’s not the case.”