On Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers surprised absolutely no one with the news that they were releasing pass rusher Dee Ford as training camp got underway. It was just the latest frustrating chapter in a sad story marked more by potential than production despite being about such a gifted player.
Kansas City Chiefs fans know much of this story well having spent years following the slow development of Ford. The former first-round pick was John Dorsey’s primary investment in the 2014 NFL Draft, a divisive pick sandwiched between Eric Fisher in 2013 and Marcus Peters in 2015. Instead of solving the Chiefs pass-rushing woes, Ford became an issue unto himself—a clearly talented player who had problems staying healthy.
When a team has a player like Ford, the frustration mounts because the upside is so obvious. Ford’s burst off of the line was second to none, yet his inability to provide a reliable presence on the defense kept the team from finding other answers. No one wants to be the one who rid themselves of Ford too early, but at some point, a team can no longer keep waiting on the development that will never come.
Former Chiefs pass rusher Dee Ford was just released by the San Francisco 49ers in another frustrating chapter for the oft-injured talent.
After two slower years to start his career, Ford provided Dorsey with the proof that something was there. He rewarded the franchise’s investment with 10 sacks in his first full year as a starter. With Chris Jones growing on the interior alongside vets like Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, the Chiefs looked like they were putting together a dynamic young core that would grow into their prime years together.
Unfortunately, Ford’s back would become a greater topic of discussion than his production. In 2017, Ford was limited to 2 sacks in 6 starts. Shortly after the Chiefs had exercised the fifth-year option on Ford, they were back to wondering whether they could even count on him.
In 2018, a contract year kicked into gear and Ford played like a man possessed. Few defenders during Andy Reid’s tenure with the Chiefs have put together the sort of season that Ford had in 2018. With 54 quarterback pressures and 13 sacks, Ford was a one-man wrecking crew and it seemed as if his back problems were behind him.
New general manager Brett Veach had an important call to make, however, and the availability questions were simply too prominent for the franchise to consider a long-term commitment. While the Chiefs could have kept Ford around on a franchise tag, they decided to tag-and-trade him instead to a 49ers franchise that envisioned him feasting on quarterbacks with DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and others along the defensive front.
That offseason, Veach flipped Ford for a second round pick that would become linebacker Willie Gay Jr. Meanwhile in the Bay Area, the narrative that carried him through several years in Kansas City is also what plagued him on the field with the Niners.
In three years with San Francisco, Ford would average 6 games, 7 tackles, and 3 sacks per season. For those efforts, Ford pocketed nearly $42 million. Financially speaking, there’s nothing frustrating about those totals, but recalling Ford’s clearly natural talents—again, that God-given burst—Ford could have been so much more.
At this point, Ford is a fool’s errand for a general manager. He’s an oft-injured player in a sport that requires availability. If anything, he’ll find his way forward without guarantees in the hope that future chapters can provide at least some bonus. But for those who watched him year after year, the player that Dee Ford became and the player he could have been are two very different figures. It’s frustrating the story turned out this way.