Are we talking about the wrong edge rusher for the San Francisco 49ers? A couple of reports suggested Arik Armstead will be with the Niners moving forward. Whether that’s on the franchise tag or a long-term deal, let’s say a deal is worked out and Armstead signs for anywhere between $16-19 million a year. That’s going to make it difficult to retain the rest of the 49ers unrestricted free agents, namely one of Emmanuel Sanders or Jimmie Ward.
Good ol’ John Middlekauff suggested that Dee Ford could be in trouble if the 49ers reach a long-term deal with Armstead. His reasoning was, “you can’t keep everyone.” San Francisco has always done a great job of getting creative with their contracts, and that’s the case with Ford, who signed a five-year, $85+ million deal less than a year ago. If Ford is on the roster past April 1, his base salary of $13.6 million becomes fully guaranteed. If the 49ers were to cut Ford, they’d save $9.5 million, while eating $6.4 in dead money. When you are a team struggling to find cap space, $9.5 million is a lot off money. That’s Emmanuel Sander’s money.
Issues with moving on with Ford
The point of free agency and the draft is to shore up your roster, not create more holes. Cutting Ford may make sense financially in the short-term, but you’re creating another roster hole. Now you need someone to start on the edge. Yes, Nick Bosa and Armstead “start.” The 49ers are in sub-packages over 70% of the time. That means you’re relying on Ronnie Blair, Damontre Moore, or whoever the 49ers feel is the best option. You could certainly sign a free agent, but will they be better than Ford? Probably not. It’s viewed as a weak edge rusher class in the draft, so that route is unlikely.
Off the field, everyone loves Ford. DeForest Buckner, Bosa, and Armstead all raved about Ford’s leadership and how he opened up the field for the rest of the defensive line. Again, you can probably find an available speed rusher, but we’re talking about one of the more effective speed rushers in the league. Ford is really, really good.
Why moving on from Ford makes sense
Ford is really, really good. When he plays. Ford played 22% of the snaps in 2019. While he played 16 games in 2018, Ford played 29% of the snaps in 2017 and 44% two years before in 2015. Is it every other year Ford will get hurt? That’s been the trend. Ford isn’t old, but he’s been battling injuries all of his career. If you’re going to invest in a star player, he better be on the field. That’s why giving Armstead a long-term contract is much easier to swallow—he plays.
Finding a trade partner would be the ideal scenario for the 49ers. The good news is, everyone could use a pass rusher. If the Niners trade Ford, they’d still have $6.4 million in dead money, and $9.5 million will be saved against the cap. Instead of letting Ford go for nothing, which I can’t imagine San Francisco doing, you get back a second or two third-round picks. Something along those lines as far as compensation goes.
The Jaguars will franchise tag Yannick Ngakoue but are looking to trade him. That opens up a need for them. The Ravens have a huge need at edge rusher. PFF listed these teams needing edge help: Steelers, Pats, Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Titans, Lions, Cowboys, Giants, Falcons, Bucs, Rams, and obviously the Seahawks. So yeah, everyone. There will be no shortage of suitors for Ford if he becomes available.
Knowing the lack of picks San Francisco has in this draft, it may make the most sense to get out of Ford’s contract and add as many picks as you can in this draft that is loaded with talent on Day 2. Decisions, decisions.