Dee Ford’s Injury Issues Could Cost the 49ers $12 Million

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers paid defensive end Dee Ford approximately $13.8 million to play exactly one game. Since Ford will take up more salary-cap room than anyone on the 49ers’ roster, it would seem like a no-brainer for them to cut him loose. Unfortunately, a clause in his contract might make that difficult.

The 49ers get burned by a bad deal

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Due to the revenue losses incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL’s salary cap will most likely decrease from last season. In the 2020 offseason, teams had $198.2 million to work with. This offseason, that figure will drop to no lower than $180 million.

This season, Ford — who has played only 12 games in the past two seasons — takes up $20 million of that space. It doesn’t take an NFL general manager to realize the lack of sense in reserving such a large chunk of the cap for someone who’s barely seen the field in two years. Unfortunately, the 49ers may not have much of a choice in this regard.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco reports of a guarantee in Dee Ford’s contract. If he is still on the roster by April 1 (a fitting date, all things considered), then $11.6 million of his base salary is fully guaranteed regardless of his health.

Dee Ford has barely taken the field for San Francisco

San Francisco 49ers defender Dee Ford
San Francisco 49ers defensive end/linebacker Dee Ford takes the field before the NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers in January 2020 | Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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The 49ers acquired Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 2019 season. The year prior, Ford had established himself as a defensive playmaker for the Chiefs. For the first — and so far, only — time in his career, he started all 16 games. He played well enough to be named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster, making 13 sacks and forcing seven fumbles.

San Francisco has yet to see Ford reach anywhere near this level. In week 11 of 2019, he strained his hamstring, forcing him to miss five of the team’s final six regular-season games. While Ford did take the field for all three of the 49ers’ playoff games that season, he barely saw any action. Coincidentally, the last of those games was the Super Bowl 54 loss to the Chiefs, his former team.

Last season, Ford started in week one against the Atlanta Falcons and made three tackles. That was all the production the 49ers received from Ford in 2020. He did not return to the field for the remainder of the season due to a back injury, and general manager John Lynch isn’t optimistic that he’ll be ready for next season either.

“I can’t tell you with great (certainty) that, yeah, he’s going to be ready,” said Lynch, per the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 49ers have other roster issues

At the moment, the San Francisco 49ers have it better off in terms of the cap than most others in the NFL. Whereas 11 teams are currently over the cap, the 49ers have over $20 million of breathing room.

Ford represents only the second-largest potential cap hit on the 49ers’ payroll. Naturally, the largest belongs to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has a cap figure of $26.4 million. However, it is uncertain whether Garoppolo will even be on the roster in 2021. In an offseason where more teams than ever are willing to make a deal for their franchise quarterback, the 49ers could do the same.

Another considerable cap hit belongs to center Weston Richburg, who accounts for $11.5 million. Richburg spent the entire 2020 season on injured reserve, but unlike Dee Ford, Richburg has no injury guarantee written into his contract.

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference. Financial data courtesy of Spotrac.