Chiefs GM Brett Veach made the right call when it came to Dee Ford’s future.
Two years ago, Kansas City Chiefs general manager faced a tough choice when it came to Dee Ford’s future. In hindsight, he chose correctly.
On Wednesday, the disappointing saga known as Ford’s career took another sad turn with the news that he would not play again in 2020. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted that Ford was likely done for the year with a back injury that simply would not let him play. Just like that, Niners fans were left looking to next September for any further impact from Ford.
It’s a chapter in Ford’s story that’s been written before, a familiar unavailability that has plagued him throughout his seven-year NFL career. And at this stage, it’s unlikely that Ford will be able to change the dominant narrative that his career was more potential than production.
It’s a sad state of affairs for Ford at this point and it’s certainly not his fault. A player can only do what his body will allow, and Ford has been cursed by some frustrating injuries throughout the course of his career. However it’s been back problems that ultimately kept Ford’s development at bay.
The back spasms began in 2015, his second season for the Chiefs, and they would return every couple years. In 2017, back pain would cost him the majority of the season in which he would appear in a then-career low of 6 games. In 2019, his first season with the Niners, he would miss a few games with a hamstring injury, but the back injury resurfaced in 2020 and kept him out for all but a single game in which he made 3 tackles.
When John Dorsey selected Ford as the Chiefs first round pick in 2014, the hope was that he would become the franchise’s cornerstone pass rusher. He would work together with and learn from Justin Houston for a couple years before ultimately receiving the torch and carrying the defense forward on his own. Instead, the Chiefs always wrestled with what they might get out of him when healthy. Flashes were obviously there, but it wasn’t until 2018, in what would be his final season with the team, that he would put it all together.
As our friend Terez Paylor of Yahoo! Sports notes, the contract year is undefeated, and Ford is a great example of that truth. In his own contract year, his fifth with the Chiefs after the team had exercised the option year for him as a former first round draft choice, Ford put it all together in his only year to make 16 starts. That season, Ford had a ridiculous 29 quarterback hits, 13 sacks, and a league-leading 7 forced fumbles.
It was a breakthrough year for Ford, one that rewarded Dorsey’s initial faith and vision (despite the fact that he’d already been replaced as GM), but it also presented the new general manager Brett Veach with a very real challenge. Pass rushers are impossibly difficult to find and teams move heaven and earth to acquire them if possible. Would the Chiefs really let Ford walk when they finally saw dividends on their investment?
The Chiefs could have used the franchise tag to keep him in K.C. and ultimately come to terms on a contract extension, but instead, they used the tag in the interim to hold his rights long enough to work out a deal with San Francisco. In exchange for a 2020 second round pick (used to select Willie Gay, Jr.), the Chiefs traded Ford to the 49ers, who immediately signed him to a five-year deal.
So far, the 49ers have reaped 6.5 sacks in 12 games over two years from Ford. Coming off of the injury in ’21, Ford will be a 30-year-old pass rusher with a bad back with an annual cost of approximately $21 million. That’s not good.
It’s very likely that 49ers GM John Lynch takes the dead money hit of $14+ million and moves on from Ford this offseason. Or maybe he waits one more year and hopes that Ford can come back. Either way, the Niners will face the same cloud of uncertainty that plagued the Chiefs pass rush for years.
It’s unfortunate to hear the news on Ford, and it would be nice to see him rebound and enjoy some productive seasons ahead. For the Chiefs, however, Veach deserves credit for reading the proverbial tea leaves and making the right call in allowing a homegrown pass rusher to leave when he did.