The entire football world knew that the San Francisco 49ers were in the market for a pass rusher. That had been the case for several years running up until Wednesday afternoon. San Francisco has found its coveted edge defender in former Kansas City Chiefs star Dee Ford.
The 49ers acquired Ford from the Chiefs for a 2020 second-round pick and promptly signed their new playmaker to a fresh five-year contract. Kansas City had previously used the franchise tag on Ford, but reports around the league made it clear that they preferred to trade him.
Ford made the Pro Bowl in 2018 after posting 13 sacks (seventh-most in the NFL). According to Pro Football Focus, Ford led all edge rushers with 78 pressures and a 91.0 overall grade last season. Kyle Shanahan said that the 49ers needed closers, and that’s the role Ford assumed with the Chiefs. Ford forced a league-high 10 turnovers due to pressure. By comparison, the 49ers forced just seven turnovers as a defense in 2018.
San Francisco is clearly betting on the fact that the 2018 version of Ford is what they’ll be getting moving forward. Ford long battled the perception that he was an underwhelming first-round pick in Kansas City (23rd overall in 2014). According to Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports, a herniated disc limited Ford to just two sacks in six games in 2017, which quickly halted the momentum of his 10-sack season in 2016. His first two campaigns (2014-15) were spent as a rotational pass rusher behind Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Now, just days from his 28th birthday, Ford is eager for his crack at being a franchise cornerstone.
“They don’t understand what they’re about to get — I needed this, bro,” Ford told Paylor.
Ford also pointed out that he spent last offseason recovering from his back injury, which prevented him from lifting and training in preparation for the season. Ford’s current clean bill of health has him feeling like 13 sacks last season is only the beginning. He told Paylor that he plans to play at a “clean” 245 pounds in 2019, 13 pounds heavier than he showed up to camp last year.
“Last year, at the point of attack, I wasn’t very strong — sometimes, they could knock me off my path,” Ford said. “Now, I’m gonna be like a Ferrari, but with an 18-wheeler’s force. I’m gonna have the muscle mass behind it.”
San Francisco isn’t going to hold him back, either. John Lynch has intimated that the 49ers plan to run fewer games up front. New defensive line coach Kris Kocurek hopes to have his guys winning with pure speed and power.
"He cuts these guys loose," Lynch said. "They’re going to be playing with a quick trigger and getting after it."
Cassius Marsh led 49ers edge rushers with 5.5 sacks last season (DeForest Buckner is primarily an inside rusher). The year before that it was Elvis Dumervil with 6.5 sacks, and in 2016 it was Ahmad Brooks with six. So again, to state the obvious, Ford fills a massive void in the 49ers defense.
Despite the glaring need off the edge, Lynch and Shanahan proved to be patient in order to find the right guy. For starters, elite edge rushers rarely (if ever) hit the open market. That’s why the Chiefs tagged Ford to begin with. But even in free agency, the 49ers were still weary of shelling out big money to a player simply because he was available.
There’s no telling how hard the 49ers chased Trey Flowers (who signed with the Lions), Preston Smith (Packers) or Za’Darius Smith (also the Packers). However it does seem fair to assume, especially since they parted with a 2020 second-round pick, that San Francisco preferred Ford over Ezekiel Ansah, Houston and other names left on the market.
It’s also important to note that acquiring Ford doesn’t exclude the 49ers from drafting another pass rusher with the No. 2 overall pick. San Francisco had given the impression that they wanted to acquire one in free agency (or via trade in this instance) and one via the draft. Coupling Ford with a player like Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Quinnen Williams or Brian Burns would immediately turn San Francisco’s pass rush into an obvious strength on paper.
Fans have been waiting a long time to read that sentence.