According to multiple reports, the San Francisco 49ers will release EDGE defender Dee Ford at some point during the offseason. General Manager John Lynch confirmed the news while speaking with members of the media at Monday’s annual NFL meetings. Ford originally arrived in San Francisco via trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in March of 2019 following a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Ford then signed a five-year contract worth $87.5 million with the 49ers, making him one of the highest paid pass rushers in the league at the time.
Ford enjoyed a relatively fruitful debut campaign with the 49ers by recording 7.5 sacks en route to helping his 49ers reach Super Bowl LIV, where they would be defeated by Ford’s previous team, the Chiefs. An unfortunate neck-and-back injury the following October limited Ford to just one regular-season appearance in 2020. Ford made a short-lived return to the field in 2021, recording a respectable 3.0 sacks in six games before landing on injured reserve with his recurring back issue. A dominant EDGE rusher when healthy, Ford now prepares to reach the open market as the 49ers have been transparent with their intention to move on from the oft-injured defender. Ford has two double-digit sack seasons under his belt, including a haunting 13.0-sack season in 2018. When healthy, he applies consistent pressure on quarterbacks in a league that places great value on his skill set and abilities.
We’ve identified three teams that should take a flier on Ford.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Perhaps a return to where it all began is the “get-right” move Ford needs to make. The Chiefs drafted Ford with the 23rd overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. A standout at Auburn University, Ford enjoyed an excellent five-year tenure with the Chiefs that included Kansas City picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. In five successful seasons with the Chiefs, Ford recorded 30.5 sacks, including 13.0 quarterback playing on his fifth-year option in 2018. The Chiefs were ultimately hesitant to commit to Ford long-term via the lucrative extension he desired, but Kansas City should have plenty of interest in reuniting with Ford now that his price has been driven downwards. Plenty of coaches remain on Kansas City’s staff today that were present during Ford’s run, including Head Coach Andy Reid.
The Chiefs struggled to impact opposing pockets last season, recording just 31 sacks in 17 regular-season contests. Only the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons fared worse in that department. The cash-strapped Chiefs have done concerningly little to improve their pass rushing efforts throughout the offseason, as not a single notable front-seven player has been acquired by General Manager Brett Veach. The Chiefs are currently relying on a return to form and health from Chris Jones and Frank Clark in order to improve their ability to place stress on quarterbacks in 2022. Playing in a loaded AFC West alongside the likes of Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr means the Chiefs must attempt to improve their defensive line. Taking a flier on the soon-to-be-available Ford makes a ton of sense.
The Colts struggled to get after opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis in 2021, recording just 33.0 sacks in 17 games. Indianapolis will usher in a new-look defense in 2022, as former Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus accepted an offer to become the new head coach of the Chicago Bears. Eberflus was replaced by decorated coordinator Gus Bradley, who will bring change to Indy’s defense. The Colts acquired pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue from the Las Vegas Raiders in an attempt to boost their defensive line but exploring options with Ford makes sense for several reasons.
Colts General Manager Chris Ballard previously served as Kansas City’s director of player personnel when the Chiefs drafted Ford and undeniably played a big role in his selection. Ballard would then become Kansas City’s director of football operations throughout some of the most fruitful seasons of Ford’s run with the Chiefs. Few personnel decision-makers understand what Ford is capable of like Ballard does. Ballard has always preferred to attack free agency by making shrewd, low-cost signings and Ford would follow his established pattern of getting great value. Ballard and Bradley both place a ton of emphasis on effective EDGE defenders and Ford would round out Indianapolis’ depth at the position rather nicely.
From an efficiency and results perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the worst pass-rushing teams (32.0 sacks) throughout the 2021 campaign. General Manager Trent Baalke has made efforts to address his underwhelming front seven by making a pair of free-agent additions in Folorunso Fatukasi and Foyesade Oluokun but more is required on the edges to help Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot apply the desired pressure on quarterbacks in 2022. Allen and Smoot combined for 13.5 sacks a year ago and could use more rotational depth behind him. The Jaguars have made a bunch of high-cost splashes in free agency but have somewhat surprisingly neglected appropriately rounding out the EDGE positions.
The new Jaguars regime possesses several coaches that are extremely familiar with Ford. Head Coach Doug Pederson served as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for two seasons (2014-15) that overlapped with Ford. Furthermore, Jaguars senior defensive assistant Bob Sutton worked as Ford’s defensive coordinator in Kansas City throughout his entire five-year tenure (2014-18) in Kansas City. No current coaching staff is more familiar with Ford’s abilities than Jacksonville’s and they could use help and depth along the edges. Don’t be shocked if the Jaguars sign Ford to a low-cost, one-year prove-it deal this offseason.