SF 49ers: Getting out from under Dee Ford contract won’t be easy
By Peter Panacy
There’s speculation the SF 49ers will move on from oft-injured EDGE Dee Ford this offseason, but his contract doesn’t make that process simple.
The SF 49ers need to figure out more than a few ways to generate much-needed cap space in 2021, particularly with the salary cap expected to drop as low as $175 million next year.
Already with over $156 million in player liabilities next season, the Niners are likely to engineer some tough cap casualties.
Not surprisingly, one of the names frequently mentioned is EDGE Dee Ford.
Ford has been disappointing since San Francisco acquired him from the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick in 2019, then signing him to a five-year, $85 million extension to pair him with rookie pass-rusher Nick Bosa. And while Ford was effective when he was on the field last season, registering 6.5 sacks during the SF 49ers’ Super Bowl run, the problem was he wasn’t on the field nearly enough.
In total, Ford appeared in only 11 regular-season games and saw just 22 percent of all defensive snaps.
So it’s no surprise Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald tabbed Ford’s contract as one of the worst in the NFL, currently:
"This is one of those contracts that I thought at the time of signing was a reasonable one. The 49ers didn’t get duped into the $20M a year contract range for a pass rusher and snuck in their usual per game bonuses and advantageous vesting dates but Ford was always an injury risk and he basically never plays football. In two years the 49ers have paid Ford nearly $35M for 12 games, 12 solo tackles and 6 sacks. Nobody forced the 49ers to restructure this contract in 2020 but they converted $12.7M to a bonus to deal with cap issues leaving them with a pretty big number to cut next year but its better than the alternative of paying him to miss football games."
That contract looks even worse with Ford missing all but one game due to a back injury. And it’s not looking likely he’ll return this season.
Ford is only making a maximum of $6.38 million in 2020. It’s next year where things get problematic, as he’s scheduled to earn up to $20.78 million, which will be 11.6 percent of the team’s cap space.
The knee-jerk reaction from most fans would be simple: Cut him or trade him.
It’s nowhere near that simple, though.
Why SF 49ers moving Dee Ford in 2021 will be difficult
For those thinking the Niners can trade Ford this offseason, it’s finding a trade partner that’ll make the prospects for such a move difficult. San Francisco already lucked out with the New Orleans Saints, who ate up the bulk of linebacker Kwon Alexander‘s hefty contract by acquiring him prior to this year’s trade deadline.
But that’s not the true kicker. No, instead it’s the dead-money hit the SF 49ers would have to take for moving Ford either via a trade or cut.
If the Niners can wait until after June 1 to move Ford, they’d free up $16 million in cap space against a hefty-but-absorbable $4.78 million in dead money. A problem here, though, is San Francisco has to be below the salary cap with its top-51 contracts by the start of the league new year in March.
Should the SF 49ers move Ford ahead of that date to free up cash, the cap savings is only $6.43 million against a whopping $14.35 in dead money. It’s going to be getting under the cap with the top-51 contracts that’ll make moving Ford difficult, not what happens later after June 1.
There is a possible way to do it, understanding the Niners have time to sign their rookie NFL Draft class in 2021, and those typically cost around $10 million any given year. Should San Francisco delay those contracts until after June 1, it’s somewhat workable.
But it doesn’t solve everything.
The other issue is Ford is hurt. The SF 49ers can’t simply cut an injured player without an injury settlement, and that figures to be massive when looking at Ford’s contract numbers. And no other team would likely pass Ford through a physical if traded either, meaning that option is likely off the table, too.
So, understandably, Ford getting back healthy would be the first step. And there’s no timetable for that.
While the Niners would like to move on from Ford and save that much-needed cap space, the actual process for doing so is much more complicated than it seems.