There’s a good chance the 49ers part ways with EDGE Dee Ford this offseason, but there’s also a plausible reason to keep him around in 2022.
By most accounts, it appears as if oft-injured veteran EDGE Dee Ford never plays another down for the San Francisco 49ers.
The Niners’ pass-rusher, who was acquired through a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs early in 2019, has certainly had trouble staying on the field, appearing in just 11 regular-season games and 34 percent of defensive snaps the year of the trade, then seeing just one game in 2020 before a serious back injury shut him down for the season.
And while it was almost a miracle he was able to return from that injury to appear in 2021 again, he nevertheless got into only six games in 2021 and recorded six sacks before ultimately being shut down on season-ending injured reserve.
San Francisco’s decision to trade for and subsequently extend Ford surely didn’t pan out the desired expectations. And in the wake of his lengthy injury history, one might assume the 49ers would simply part ways with him this offseason and be done with the whole thing.
There’s a caveat, though, and it points to why keeping Ford around one more year actually has some merit.
49ers would have to wait until June 1 to cut Dee Ford
Plenty of cap casualties end up taking place prior to the start of the league new year when teams have to be under the salary cap, $208.2 million for 2022.
At that point, San Francisco would have no need to cut the 30-year-old Ford outright. But even if it wanted to, it would be a bad business decision to do so right away, not even getting into any injury guarantees and the fact his $4.6 million roster bonus is due on April 1.
Should the 49ers cut Ford prior to June 1, it would cost them $14.4 million in dead money without generating any cap savings whatsoever. After June 1, though, the Niners could clear a marginal $2.4 million in cap space against a slightly more manageable $9.5 million in dead money.
But that leads us to the next point of why keeping Ford might actually make sense.
Maybe 49ers keep Ford as a supplementary pass-rusher
A lot of this hinges on Ford’s ability to get back on the field. But remember that $2.4 million in saved cap space if Ford is released after June 1. That number is important.
As 49ers Webzone’s Wayne Breezie pointed out, 2023 is a void year on Ford’s contract, and he’ll effectively be a free agent at that point. San Francisco is already going to be on the hook for at least $9.5 million with Ford this upcoming season, and the only remaining question is whether or not that $2.4 million is worth getting back.
The 49ers do have pass-rushing depth questions behind Pro Bowl EDGE Nick Bosa. Defensive ends Arden Key and Jordan Willis are both pending free agents, EDGE Samson Ebukam could be a cap casualty, and there’s not exactly another outside pass-rusher waiting in the folds on the roster.
The market for top-end pass-rushers can get close to or even above $20 million per year, while second- and even third-rate pass-rushers can easily earn $8 million annually.
$2.4 million, although it’s substantial to any of us non-football types, is awfully cheap for a pass-rusher on the open market.
That’s where it makes some sense for the Niners to simply allocate that money to Ford with the hope he’s able to make something of a recovery and, perhaps if only slightly, provide an impact on the defensive side of the ball in 2022.
San Francisco can then be fully done with Ford in 2023.