Now the two are tied together long term.
Brooks signed a six-year, $44.5 million contract extension with San Francisco on Tuesday that will take him through the 2017 season and keep one of the NFL's best linebacker units intact. The deal is worth $17.5 million guaranteed, said his agent, Greg Williams.
"Something was telling me just to sign here. I feel like this is where I should be," said Brooks, who could've opted for free agency. "These are the people who gave me a chance to get this contract."
Brooks emerged as a regular starter for the first time in his six-year NFL career last season.
Along with All-Pro inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and sensational rookie Aldon Smith at the other outside spot, Brooks helped the 49ers win the NFC West behind one of the league's best defenses. San Francisco allowed only 14.3 points per game, second only to Pittsburgh at 14.2.
"I think he felt a part of the team. He felt like it was home," Williams said. "I think it was kind of a feeling all year long that he wanted to stay there. We kept options open on whether he would go to free agency or not. He believes that this is the opportunity to be on a good team for a long time and he wants to be a part of it."
Brooks' big payday almost never happened.
Brooks, who will be 28 on March 14, admits he might've enjoyed the NFL's riches a bit too much earlier in his career. He was even told by coaches he wasn't smart enough to learn defenses, he said, and often given excuses as to why he couldn't crack the roster.
The Bengals, who selected Brooks in the third round of the 2006 supplemental draft out of Virginia, cut him just before the 2008 season.
"I don't like the simple fact that a team told me, `Well, hey, we don't want you,"' Brooks said. "I never had that happen to me ever in my life. It kind of felt like a girl broke up with me and broke my heart."
In 2009, Brooks had a franchise single-season record with five forced fumbles. He had 50 tackles, seven sacks and a forced fumble while becoming a key member of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's top-ranked run defense last season. And In San Francisco's thrilling 36-32 playoff win over New Orleans, Brooks had one of three sacks on record-setting Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a fourth-quarter hit on the quarterback for a 7-yard loss.
Brooks' turnaround has culminated this offseason.
A little more than a week ago, he was baptized at a Bay Area church. Brooks has been working out regularly at 49ers headquarters, and now that he has the contract he's always craved, he's not about to forget how far he's come from those Cincinnati days.
"I pretty much told myself that I would never let that happen," Brooks said. "Regardless of what goes on in my life, I will never let this happen again. I pretty much had to reevaluate myself as a player and a person to become the best person and the best football player I could be, because it's not going to last forever.
"And then once you retire from the game or once the NFL says no to you, we don't want you to play anymore, you want to go out knowing you did all you can do. And that's where I'm at with myself."
Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP