For now, Dee Ford remains a key member of the 49ers’ defense. But they probably will release him after 2020.
Ford, 29, spoke on a video conference Friday and explained that he had “a pretty extensive cleanup” in his knee to treat “severe tendinitis” two weeks after the Super Bowl. He didn’t say if “cleanup” meant removing loose particles or smoothing down rough edges of bones or trimming the meniscus or something else. We just know he had surgery and it was serious.
Meaning his career might last just a few more seasons.
Here are five things to know about Ford heading into 2020.
1. The 49ers knew before last season that Ford needed surgery.
They knew during the offseason when Ford missed most of training camp. So when they gave his knee a Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection, they knew it wouldn’t heal the tendinitis -- it merely reduced the pain for a short time. Ford re-injured his knee Week 2 against the Bengals.
Did the 49ers know Ford had knee tendonitis when they traded for him last March? I’m guessing they didn’t.
Did the Chiefs know Ford had knee tendonitis when they traded him to San Francisco? I’m guessing they did.
2. Ford played through the injury the best he could.
He could have had surgery during training camp or after Week 2 when he re-injured the knee. Could have shut himself down for the entire season and still earned more than $12 million for 2019. Lots of players would have had surgery and protected their investment, which is their bodies.
Not Ford. He didn’t take the 49ers money and shut himself down. Instead, he did the best he could to play through the pain. Missed only five games. And he was effective when he was on the field -- he had 6.5 sacks.
I’m sure the 49ers appreciate his toughness and willingness to play injured. He also pulled his hamstring and re-injured it rushing back for the season finale against the Seahawks. He absolutely wanted to play. His body just kept breaking down.
3. Ford now can cut and explode off his arthritic knee.
He couldn’t do those things last season. He said the difference is “like night and day.” On the video conference, he sounded upbeat and optimistic in a way he never sounded last season. He should have a decidedly better season in 2020 than he had in 2019 -- more playing time, more sacks and more tackles for loss.
4. Ford’s knee never will be 100-percent healthy.
He said so himself. Said his knee is a chronic issue, and compared it to Todd Gurley, who has arthritis in his knee and isn’t nearly as good as he was just a few years ago.
Ford will have to manage his knee tendinitis the rest of his career, which might not last much longer. He’s 29 and has had injury issues off and on since the Chiefs drafted him in 2014. His knee could require future “cleanups” -- who knows?
Ford should not start for the 49ers next season, or for any team ever again. He should come off the bench and stay fresh for passing downs, like last season.
5. Next season probably will be Ford’s last on the 49ers.
The 49ers clearly didn’t expect Ford to have knee tendinitis when they traded for him -- they’ve made the best of a bad situation. They use him as a part-time pass rusher, and he’s a terrific one.
But they can’t continue to pay $17 million per season to a part-time player. He’s not the three-down defensive lineman they thought he’d be. He’s damaged goods. The 49ers can cut him in 2021, when he’s 30, and pay just $4.8 million in dead salary cap -- a microscopic penalty for an NFL team.
Barring a miraculous recovery, I expect the 49ers will cut Ford after next season.