SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' signings of free-agent wide receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss might have generated more buzz, but their best move of the 2012 offseason might have been retaining one of their own.
"Vic Fangio made the comment the other day, 'The smartest thing we did as an organization was pay Ahmad Brooks and keep him as a 49er,' " coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday, referring to his defensive coordinator. "We would all concur with that."
The 49ers kept Brooks, an outside linebacker, from becoming a free agent by signing him to a six-year, $44.5 million deal in February with $17.5 million guaranteed. The move rewarded Brooks, 28, for his performance in the 2011 season, his first as a starter with the 49ers after spending his first two seasons with them as a backup and core special teams player.
Brooks started all 16 regular-season games each of the past two seasons, with seven sacks in 2011 and 6½ this season.
He played a huge role in helping the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl in their victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. Brooks batted down a pass on third-and-4 from the 49ers' 10-yard line, likely preventing a first down with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Falcons turned over the ball on downs on the next play, and the 49ers held on for a 28-24 victory.
"It's flattering," Brooks said of Harbaugh's high praise. "For it to be one of their smartest moves, it was one of my smartest moves, as well.
"It wasn't all about the money to me. I knew that coming back here I would be playing with a great group of guys and playing for a championship. So, it was a smart decision on my part, as well."
Harbaugh said Brooks is a consummate team player, the kind the organization seeks in building its roster.
Brooks often gets overshadowed by the three other linebackers on the field -- Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Yet, he finds a way to stand out time and again, be it against the run, rushing the quarterback or in pass coverage.
"He's done it with very little fanfare in terms of how he talks about himself," Harbaugh said. "But he's been a tireless worker. I go back to the first days of the offseason program. I don't know if he ever missed a day. He's been a great contributor, great leader, and a really high performer on the field."
"We all have great faith in David," Harbaugh said. "He's done a lot for our team. I believe he's really hitting the ball well, consistently, now for weeks. I can't agree that he is in a slump."
For his part, Akers said he is preparing for the Super Bowl with a positive outlook and not dwelling on his recent failures.
"I haven't had personal success this year ... but if we end up winning this, it will be one of the coolest team seasons I've been a part of," said Akers, who's in his 15th NFL season and second with the 49ers.
Akers studied tape of his kicks, he said, and he feels as if his form "looks pretty good." Several of his peers encouraged Akers to "keep fighting through it."
Coincidentally, Akers' only other Super Bowl appearance came with the Philadelphia Eagles in February 2005, when current Ravens coach John Harbaugh was the special teams coordinator.
Brooks wore a black, no-contact jersey, as did fellow outside linebacker Aldon Smith (shoulder). Backup tight end Garrett Celek missed practice for the third straight day because of a chronic foot injury.
The 49ers' final practice before departing for New Orleans takes place Saturday and is closed to the media.
The award is named after longtime beat writer Niver, who covered the 49ers for the San Mateo Times. This is the second time that Gore received the award.
"I knew I was going to get fined," Gore said. "It's done. I have to deal with it, and I have to do better next time."
The team is scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on Sunday evening, whereas the Ravens are expected to arrive Monday afternoon. The Super Bowl is Feb. 3.