SF 49ers: Dee Ford the worst trade in John Lynch’s tenure

Dee Ford #55 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Dee Ford #55 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers’ efforts to trade for EDGE Dee Ford in 2019 haven’t come close to providing the desired results, and the implications are still happening.

If SF 49ers general manager John Lynch could have a redo of moves he’s made since taking over in 2017, he’d probably elect to swap out his top pick from that year’s NFL Draft, defensive end Solomon Thomas, for someone like quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs or quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans.

There are a few other gaffes in there, both in terms of draft picks and trades. But one of the ones haunting Lynch and Co. a bit more than ever right now is the 2019 trade for former Chiefs EDGE Dee Ford.

Lynch and the Niners have prioritized the trenches since 2017, so sending off a second-round pick for Ford to pair him with then-rookie EDGE Nick Bosa sure seemed like a smart move. After all, Ford was coming off a 2018 campaign where he had a career-high 13 sacks and led the league with seven forced fumbles.

And, true, Ford made an impact in 2019 after signing a five-year contract with an average annual value of $17 million. Amid a lethal San Francisco defensive line, he registered a still-impressive 6.5 sacks.

But that’s where the problems start to unfold.

Ford was hindered by multiple injuries his first year with the SF 49ers, which ultimately limited him to just 11 regular-season games and only 22 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. While he was productive during his limited time on the field, it’s safe to assume the Niners were wanting more from Ford after spending $14.6 million on him that year.

Except Ford saw just one game in 2020, Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, then missed the rest of the regular season with a back injury.

What’s made the Dee Ford trade bad for John Lynch, SF 49ers

Hindsight is 20-20, but it’s fair to think Lynch would want to move on from Ford if he could. The problem, though, is it won’t be that easy.

As part of the negotiations with Ford on his 2019 new contract, he has an injury guarantee and can’t simply be cut in the wake of his ongoing back issues. And NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco described more of why this situation complicates matters for San Francisco:

"He is scheduled to make $15.15 million in base salary for the 2021 season. Ford would certainly be a salary-cap casualty this offseason, but his contract complicates the matter for the 49ers.General manager John Lynch said last month there are no assurances Ford would be ready for the start of the 2021 season.But Ford has an injury guarantee written into his contract. If he remains on the 49ers’ roster on April 1, $11.6 million of his base salary becomes fully guaranteed."

With the salary cap dropping from nearly $200 million as low as $180 million amid the pandemic, nearly every team across the league will be making tough cap-casualty cuts. Ford, as Maiocco pointed out, would be one of them.

But that injury guarantee creates quite a sticky situation.

Right now, it’s unclear if the SF 49ers can manage to get out from under Ford’s contract in any way. And with the clock ticking on that April 1 date, time is running out.

With Ford’s status up in the air for 2021, there could be hope he gets healthy enough to return to the field. After all, the Niners are scheduled to pay him over $20 million, which accounts for 11 percent of the team’s roster salary and is second only in contract value to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

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And while a good chunk of Lynch’s trades in previous seasons have either panned out well or didn’t hurt the team much at all, the deal for Ford is sure looking like the one move San Francisco would like to undo.