San Francisco 49ers

Why coach says veteran linebacker’s big salary won’t factor into roster decision

Ahmad Brooks (55) is trying to hold off Eli Harold to be the starting strong-side linebacker and perhaps to keep his roster spot.
Ahmad Brooks (55) is trying to hold off Eli Harold to be the starting strong-side linebacker and perhaps to keep his roster spot. Sacramento Bee file

Kyle Shanahan said he won’t be looking at dollar signs when making roster decisions later this month.

“I don’t even know what their salaries are,” the 49ers coach said Sunday. “I try not to even look at that because I want to make the right decision. And I don’t want anything to skew me on that type of stuff. I try to go off of what I see at practice.”

The topic was raised after Shanahan revealed Saturday that Eli Harold has a shot at unseating Ahmad Brooks as the 49ers’ starting strong-side linebacker spot. Brooks has been a starter on the edge of the team’s defense since 2011, and he’s the second longest tenured 49er after left tackle Joe Staley.

Brooks either has led the 49ers in sacks or tied for the team lead in that category every season since 2013. He has 53 1/2 career sacks; Harold has three.

No other players competing for the same spot, however, have nearly as wide a discrepancy in their salaries.

Brooks, who is entering his 12th season, is San Francisco’s fourth highest paid player, and his $6.1 million salary-cap figure dwarfs that of Harold – $823,000 – who is in the third season of his four-year rookie deal.

Brooks, 33, also is a decade older than Harold and is on the last year of his contract.

While Brooks started the first preseason game, Harold was with the first-string unit during Saturday’s 33-14 home loss to the Denver Broncos. Neither was very visible with Brooks recording a quarterback hurry against Denver’s second-team offense and Harold failing to appear on the statistic sheet.

Shanahan noted that Harold, a third-round pick in 2015, missed practice with a foot injury in the spring and a concussion early in training camp. But he’s been performing well over the last week, Shanahan said, and coaches particularly like how the former defensive end holds his ground against the run, which is the strong-side linebacker’s primary responsibility.

Last year Harold bulked up to 270 pounds, a weight he called “outrageous.” He said he now is a more comfortable 252 pounds.

“I feel like I’m not only fast and quick but stronger as well,” he said. “Like I said, learning leverage and knowing you don’t have to weigh a lot to be strong – that was something that I had to learn.”

Shanahan also noted that free-agent acquisition Dekoda Watson is in the mix at strong-side linebacker. Watson is a regular on the team’s special teams coverage units.

Shanahan said he asks himself one question when winnowing the roster: Which players will help the most in 2017?

“I try to simplify my thoughts in that way,” he said. “That’s why I don’t really find out about salaries until I’ve already made a decision.”

Teams must trim rosters from 90 to 53 players by Sept. 2. According to the NFL players union, the 49ers currently have $65 million in salary-cap space, the most in the league.

Thoughts on Boldin – Former 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin announced his retirement Sunday. Shanahan said he never coached Boldin nor has he met him. “But I feel like I do just because I’ve always studied how he plays,” he said.

“He’s as violent of a receiver as there is,” Shanahan said. “And I’ve always truly believed that receivers can set the mentality of an offense. … When you have guys that play like Anquan, that just brings a whole different mentality to your offense. That usually leads to teams that have chances to win Super Bowls.”

Boldin, 36, leaves the NFL ranked ninth in all-time receptions and 14th in receiving yards. He won a Super Bowl ring in the 2012-13 season with the Baltimore Ravens.

Et cetera – Shanahan said the 49ers hope to take safety Jimmie Ward (hamstring) off the physically-unable-to-perform list Wednesday.

▪ Some good news from Saturday’s loss: There were no major injuries. Tight end Vance McDonald left the game after absorbing a big hit in the first quarter but later returned. Rookie Pita Taumoepenu had the wind knocked out of him but also returned to the action.

▪ Since the 49ers’ next game, at the Minnesota Vikings, is on a Sunday, Shanahan said the team will treat the week as a dry run, schedule-wise, for the regular season. In that way, the first real practice will be Wednesday.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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