Dee Ford just got here. So why would the 49ers cut him next year?
When the San Francisco 49ers acquired pass-rushing specialist Dee Ford in the 2019 offseason for a 2020 second round-pick, most were thrilled. Fans and the Niners brass saw what Ford would be able to bring to the team’s pass-rush unit: speed and and elite pass-disruption ability.
This evaluation of Ford’s talents was instantly rewarded with a five-year, $87.5 million contract, which would solidify Ford’s role as one of the team’s franchise players for years to come.
Fast forward to present day, and Ford’s contract seems to be more of a burden than a blessing on the organization and their plans of the future.
Is this a talent question? Absolutely not. I want to make it clear Ford was in no way a bad player this season. In fact, he was actually one of the teams best players, when healthy. The fact is, no one is questioning Ford’s ability to pressure opposing teams’ quarterbacks but are instead questioning his ability to stay on the field, and if his salary is worth the cap hit going forward, considering the number of high-profile players the team must sign or extend.
In his last three NFL seasons, Ford has missed 15 of 48 possible regular-season games, and was actually knocked out of a number of games in 2019 with San Francisco. Even though Ford was not a consistent member of the Niners’ regular-season cast, he still managed to register 6.5 sacks in 11 regular-season games. Considering he did not even play the entirety of all 11 games, that is a pretty solid sack total on the season. Pro Football Focus actually gave him an 84.4 overall defender grade, which was very close to defensive linemates Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, who received grades of 86.7 and 89.8, respectfully. This should go to show how effective Ford was last season. Keeping him grouped with Bosa, Armstead, and rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw beyond 2020 would ensure that the 49ers continue to field the best defensive line in the league. The Niners’ best asset is arguably their pass rush, and keeping Ford in their defensive unit would all but assure that they remain dominant in this respect
When you read that Ford, who was playing on average only 34 percent of the defensive snaps over 11 games and yet was still able to be so effective, you may be wondering, why on earth would the 49ers cut him?
As stated above, this is by no means a talent question. The 49ers have a delicate salary-cap situation they will need to navigate properly, or else they can risk losing a great deal of talent going forward. This year, the Niners will have close to no cap space following the official signings of their rookie players, which is fine since for the most part, their roster will remain as is going into the regular season.
Dee Ford creates problems with the 49ers’ cap situation in coming years
Their issues start to arise following this season as the Niners are projected to have about $44 million in cap space before the signings/extensions of key players like offensive tackle Trent Williams, tight end George Kittle and linebacker Fred Warner, to name a few. All four of these players are important to the future of the franchise, but one name may stick out a little more than the rest: Kittle.
The franchise is already having some issues with extending Kittle as his salary demands (justifiably or not) are much higher than his peers in the tight end market with rumors stating he is asking about $18.5 million to $21 million per year. It’s possible the team loses Kittle altogether if they do not pay him what he believes he deserves, considering he has been playing on the cheap since 2017.
This may be hard to do with a player like Ford taking upwards of $18 million in space in the salary cap, playing a position the team is very deep in, the defensive line. The team also has a glaring need at left tackle after this season if they do not lock down the services of Williams, who is a top-five offensive tackle when healthy. He’s looking for a substantial increase in his salary going forward, which will be hard to honor with the 49ers’ current cap situation.
Finally we have Warner, who has emerged as one of the league’s most versatile linebackers and will probably expect a deal in the range of $9 million to $12 million per year. With Kittle’s expected big contract and the extensions of Warner and Williams, the team may be a lot more strapped for cash than you may think.
The question finally becomes: Is Dee Ford worth risking the loss of players like Kittle, Warner and Williams?
The answer is unarguably no.
Ford is currently 29 years old and, although still a premier player at his position when healthy, keeping him would make it nearly impossible to lock down younger, more important players to the team. The Niners are quite deep at defensive line and can easily sign or draft a new player to replace Ford if need be after the 2020 season, making him much more expendable than the other players discussed. Kittle and Williams are both considered elite options at their position, and would be a little harder to immediately replace with the draft. Also I should mention the fanbase would probably lose their minds if the Niners brass let the one of the most popular 49ers of the last decade, Kittle, walk away in free agency.
Cutting Dee Ford is the correct move here following this season. He is in no way lacking the pass-rushing skills the 49ers signed him for.
But the harsh reality is you can’t pay everyone, and some players need to be let go for the greater good of the team, especially those who have issues staying healthy.