Keeping the gang together: Brooks inks deal

The 49ers took a big step toward keeping their powerful defense together on Tuesday when they made their first big move to retain key veterans from their NFC West championship team by signing outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks to a six-year contract extension.

Brooks signed a six-year, $44.5 million deal that will pay him handsomely for a player who just three seasons ago was waived by the 49ers in his first year with the team and didn't play one snap during that entire 2008 season.

But Brooks has come a long way since then. A very long way.

After moving to outside linebacker from the inside position he had played previously his entire career, Brooks got his first start with the 49ers in 2010 and then became a regular last season while developing into a cornerstone of the NFL's fourth-ranked defense.

Playing more defensive snaps than just three other starters, Brooks was a force to be reckoned with on the left edge. Strong against the run and making an impact as pass rusher, Brooks had a career year in his contract season, finishing third on the team with seven sacks, third with 46 quarterback pressures and fourth with 35 quarterback hits.

He also was eighth on the team with 59 tackles and even displayed the ability to drop into coverage, though he primarily rushed the quarterback on passing downs.

Brooks has developed into one of San Francisco's top pass rushers over the past three seasons since his emergence with the team began in 2009. He has 18 sacks over that span – second on the team only to defensive end Justin Smith's 22. In 2009, Brooks also set a franchise record for most forced fumbles in a season with five.

The signing of Brooks means San Francisco's fearsome front seven on defense will return virtually intact. Brooks was the only impending free agent among those seven starting players.

Brooks, who turns 28 on March 14, is the first to sign a new deal with the team of the 14 veterans on the San Francisco roster who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 13.

Two of the team's other key starters on defense – Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers and Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson – are among that group.

Safeties Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams and linebackers Blake Costanzo and Tavares Gooden – core members on San Francisco's special teams units – also can become unrestricted free agents when their 2011 contracts expire next month.

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