It's not often premier pass rushers become available in the NFL. By and large, teams are limited to finding an elite pass rusher via the draft.
For example, when generational pass rusher Von Miller's contract was up, the Denver Broncos franchise tagged the outside linebacker and signed him soon after to a lucrative long-term deal. Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is another example of the value placed on top talent. In 2018, Donald was set to enter the final year of his contract before the Rams signed the four time All-Pro and five time Pro Bowler to a multi-year extension.
When the Kansas City Chiefs put Dee Ford on the trade block, the San Francisco 49ers jumped at the opportunity to add him. The 49ers acquired Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick. San Francisco subsequently signed Ford to a five-year contract. The cost was steep, but well worth it given Ford's ability as well as the scarcity at the position.
Ford recorded 13 sacks last season and his pressures led to 10 takeaways for Kansas City's defense. He also racked up a league-leading seven forced fumbles, and no NFL defensive lineman totaled more pressures (78).
His standout campaign begs the question, should Ford be considered among the league's top pass rushers?
"I think he would be," general manager John Lynch said on Thursday during an appearance on 49ers Live. "He has some qualities. I'll put his first step right off the line of scrimmage – his get off – up there with anybody in the league. And that excites us."
The 49ers are hopeful Ford can replicate his dominant 2018 season. Adding the edge threat should complement San Francisco's series of first-round interior rushers in DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas.
"When you start pulling tackles off the guys we have inside, now all of a sudden they can't be so inclined to say 'you've got to watch 99 (Buckner), you've got to watch 94 (Thomas), you've got to watch 91 (Armstead),'" Lynch explained. "Now they're going to have to say '55 is out here and we're going to have to fly out to get him.' You start to provide that collectively we want to be a dominant group up front. We're starting to have the makings of that. Now they've got to go do that. And they're fully aware of that."
There's still much to prove before Ford enters the conversation with the likes of Miller, Donald and the rest of a lean list of pass rushers who rightfully claim the label of "elite." But as of now, the 49ers believe in Ford's trajectory and potential.
"We studied all kinds of different players. Dee is the guy we want," Lynch added. "He's got some rare qualities that we think will blend real well to any team, but our team specifically."