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In one trade, Dee Ford changed teams, positions, and his financial future, making the shift from playing outside linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs under the franchise tag to being a defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers under a lucrative 5-year contract.
For such transformation to happen, Ford had to overcome a season-ending back injury and the resulting surgery in 2017 that had some doctors worried that he’d never be able to walk properly again.
After a grueling rehabilitation, Ford registered a 2018 season full of career-highs, proving he’s fully recovered and the 49ers agree, going all-in on him as a sack-producing defensive end and we take a look at the story, including the odds and predictions of how many total sacks Ford will have in 2019.
Dee Ford is a 27-year-old professional athlete born in Odenville, Alabama in 1991 to parents James and Debbie Ford who brought him up in a spiritual, musical and athletic environment.
Ford played football at St. Clair County High School and was named to the Class 4A All-State team by the Alabama Sports Writers Association after recording 90 tackles, 18 sacks, an interception and three broken passes his senior year.
Considered a three-star recruit by the renowned Rivals.com, Ford was ranked as the 62nd best outside linebacker prospect in the nation and went to play his college football at Auburn University.
Ford only started once in his first three seasons at Auburn, and in that time he registered 4 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and 30 tackles (6.5 for loss).
After an injury extended his junior season (see below), Ford had a breakout senior season in 2013 with 10.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, 29 tackles (14.5 for loss) and a deflection.
During his college football career at Auburn, Ford registered a total of 93 tackles (27.4 for loss), 20.5 sacks, 40 QB hurries and was named First-team All-SEC while becoming a two-time SEC champion and a BCS champion.
Foreshadowing things to come during his future NFL career, in 2011, Ford’s junior season, he suffered a back injury that kept him from playing.
Ford had to have surgery on his back and as a result, he redshirted that season and sat out until the following year.
Ford lost a lot of weight recovering from his surgery, but in 2012 he got back up to his regular size and was able to register 6.5 sacks in 7 starts.
After putting on an impressive performance at the Reese’s Senior Bowl at the start of 2014 (2 tackles, both for loss, a pass deflection and 2 sacks) as well as at Auburn’s pro day, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Ford in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the 23rd pick overall.
The Chiefs signed the 6-foot-2, 252-pound Ford to a five-year rookie contract that ended up being worth $16.88 million, including a $4.254 million signing bonus.
Ford was drafted as a linebacker and in his rookie season he played in all 16 games and had 7 combined tackles (one for loss), 1.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, and a pass defended.
Except for missing over a dozen games due to injury, Ford was incredibly productive for the Chiefs, playing in 67 games, starting 41 of those.
During that time, Ford registered 30.5 sacks, 136 combined tackles (36 for loss), 69 quarterback hits, 9 forced fumbles and 6 passes defended.
In his five NFL seasons with the Chiefs, Ford was named to the Pro Bowl once and won the Ed Block Courage Award, both in 2018, after a season filled with 13.0 sacks, 42 tackles, and 7 forced fumbles.
In his fourth NFL season in 2017, after the Chiefs exercised Ford’s fifth-year contract option that would pay him $8.71 million in 2018, Ford missed a total of ten games due to his recurring back issues.
By the time December rolled around, he was placed on injured reserve, his season ended, and he immediately underwent surgery.
Doctors feared Ford wouldn’t walk properly after the procedure, called a ‘lumbar discectomy,’ but despite seeing his weight drop down to 215-pounds Ford not only recovered but also changed his diet which increased his energy.
After Ford’s 2018 (55 tackles, 13 sacks, and 77 pressures), chances are the Chiefs still wanted Ford on their roster, but it came down to what it always comes down to when a player’s rookie contract is up: money.
The Chiefs weren’t willing to talk a long-term deal with Ford, but they didn’t want to lose him to the free agency market so they slapped a Franchise Tag on him that would have paid him $15.443 million in 2019.
Ford was reportedly fine with playing in Kansas City for a season under the tag, but the Chiefs were shopping him around in the meantime, and eventually, the 49ers came knocking with the right price.
The news that the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to trade Dee Ford to the San Francisco 49ers came out on Tuesday, March 12.
The 49ers got the quarterback hunter they wanted and the Chiefs got something for a player they knew they’d be losing, plus they saved the $15.44 million against their salary cap.
The price? The 49ers gave up a second-round draft pick in 2020.
Quite a bit more than his rookie deal, that’s for sure.
Ford and the 49ers have agreed to a five-year deal worth $85.5 million, including an $8 million signing bonus, with $33.35 million of that guaranteed.
For the 2019 season, Ford will make an estimated $21 million, not as an outside linebacker like he has since his Auburn days, but as a defensive end playing on the line.
The Chiefs’ defense play in what’s called a 3-4 set, which means they used three defensive linemen and four linebackers on any given play, whereas the 49ers use a 4-3 set with four defensive lineman and three linebackers.
49ers general manager John Lynch sees Ford and his pass rushing expertise as the perfect fit for the LEO defensive end.
The position is nicknamed the LEO because it is essentially a hybrid between a linebacker (L) and an end (E), but some teams reverse the L and the E and call that player the Elephant.
According to Lynch, the 49ers were looking for a closer, a player who can “close halves, close games, get off the field on third down,” and he saw Ford as being perfect for that role.
The franchise, including Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, see Ford as a difference-maker, a player whose only job is to move forward fast and towards the quarterback.
And when you see on film how quickly Ford gets off the ball and hunts down his prey, it’s not hard to imagine him as the perfect LEO that his new team needs him to be.
Yes, the big man can jam off the field, too.
Ford started playing the piano at the age of twelve and currently has four digital keyboards, plus he plays the drums and a little guitar, too.
A fan of the gospel, jazz, pop, and classical genres, Ford dreams of becoming a music producer once his career of crushing opposing quarterbacks comes to an end.
Never bet what you don’t have, of course, but if you’re a football gambler you may be interested in the odds the professionals have released regarding Dee Ford’s 2019 sack production for San Francisco.
Keep in mind that Ford’s two best NFL seasons for sacks were in 2018 (13 sacks) and 2016 (10 sacks) but in each of the other three seasons, he never registered more than 4.
Also, Ford is now joining a defense that ranked 13th by the end of last season, whereas the Chiefs’ defense was ranked 31st (better only than the Cincinnati Bengals) so it’s likely his numbers will benefit from being surrounded by a better squad.
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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