The Niners released Ford on Wednesday in a move that had been expected since Ford’s 2021 season ended in December with him on injured reserve because of persistent back problems.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch said Tuesday that a move would be forthcoming with Ford after indicating at the NFL owners’ meetings in March that Ford had played his final snaps with the team.
“I don’t see a lot of hope in him being a factor for us on the field moving forward,” Lynch said then. “We’ve tried to be as patient as possible and no fault of Dee, he just ran into a bad situation with his back where he couldn’t get healthy. He is rehabbing but I don’t see him being a part of us.”
Because Ford has been dealing with an ongoing back issue, the Niners had been patient before releasing him so as to spread out the salary cap charges that remain on his contract. Since Wednesday’s move comes after June 1, the Niners will spread out the bulk of the more than $11.5 million left on his deal over the next two years. The move saves $1.12 million against the 2022 salary cap.
For the Niners, Ford’s release is a disappointing conclusion to a once-promising union between player and team. The Niners originally acquired Ford in a 2019 trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a second-round draft pick. The 49ers promptly signed Ford to a five-year, $85 million deal with visions of Ford and fellow end Nick Bosa wreaking havoc on quarterbacks for years to come.
There were glimpses of that in 2019 when Ford had 6.5 sacks in 11 games and San Francisco surged to an appearance in Super Bowl LIV. But Ford struggled with multiple injuries that season and the back problems that plagued him as far back as his time at Auburn never went away.
All told, Ford appeared in just 18 regular-season games with 9.5 sacks in three seasons in San Francisco. He played in six games in 2022 with 3 sacks before landing on injured reserve.
The 49ers used their first pick in the 2022 NFL draft — No. 61 overall — on defensive end Drake Jackson with an eye toward Jackson becoming Ford’s long-term replacement.
“[Jackson] just jumps off the film in terms of his … talent and length and his ability to turn the corner and redirect, all the things we look for and covet in a defensive end,” Lynch said in April. “We think his best stuff is in front of him.”
Ford, 31, was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2018 season while with the Chiefs. He has 40 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and 159 tackles in eight NFL seasons.