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Dee Ford’s tenure in San Francisco is a great lesson in perception

The numbers suggest the trade made sense

San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

In March of 2019, the 49ers sent a 2020 second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for edge rusher Dee Ford. San Francisco then inked Ford to a five-year deal for 87 million upon completion of the trade. Fast forward a little over three years, and the 49ers appear poised to part ways with Ford after a report surfaced that Ford will be released with a post-June 1st designation.

The unfortunate reality of the situation is that Ford’s talent level most likely has absolutely nothing to do with this decision. When he has been on the field, Ford has not only been one of the better players on the 49ers; he has been one of the best pass rushers in all of football.

Seriously, the impact he had on the 49ers' defense in 2019 is something that does not get discussed nearly enough. The splits with him on and off the field during that season are eye-popping. Take a look at these :

Ford on the field

Pressure percentage: 31%

Sack percentage: 15%

EPA/Play: .23

Now compare that with how the 49ers' defense fared when Ford was not on the field.

Pressure percentage: 23%

Sack percentage: 4%

EPA/Play: .07

What makes it even more fascinating is how impressive the numbers looked on early downs when the 49ers' defensive line didn’t always have the luxury to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

Ford on the field (1st & 2nd down)

Pressure percentage: 26%

Sack percentage: 12%

EPA/Play: .27

Ford off the field (1st & 2nd down)

Pressure percentage: 22%

Sack percentage: 4%

EPA/Play: .05

Regrettably, a string of injuries over the past couple of seasons has kept Ford off the field and, as a result, altered the perception of just how valuable he was to this football team. This had me thinking a bit about the legacy Ford will leave behind during his stint with the 49ers. When I did, I reflected quite a bit about how there is so much misguided vitriol thrown toward athletes like Ford.

The majority of the conversations I see surrounding Ford are centered around criticism of his inability to stay on the field, which is something that I think has become too personal with miscalculated anger towards athletes in professional sports.

I wanted to address this topic because I think it has been an issue in sports for far too long. Yes, the NFL is a business, and yes, it is the ultimate results-dependent profession, but at the end of the day, it still is occupied by human beings. Far too often, we see the legacy of a player like Ford unjustly tarnished for something that is 100% out of their control.

Look, I get it. Fans are going to be frustrated when results aren’t there. But my issue is more or less rooted in the fact that this gets discussed as if this is the players' fault that they are injured and missing games as a result.

When players like Ford are brought up, the disdain that many people speak with will lead you to believe things that frankly don’t do any justice to the player he was and his impact on this 49ers football team.

People speak of this player as if he controls the fact that he has chronic back issues, which is a direct consequence of playing a violent sport for the entertainment of the very same pundits who go out of their way to diminish his contributions.

Again, I understand that when there is a lack of results and production in sports, fans will always want to assign blame. It comes with the territory. The issue I have is that we often see a disproportionate amount of anger directed at results that stem from situations that are largely unable to be controlled by the players.

This is not a player who is being let go because they didn’t want to hit the weight room. It’s not because Ford wasn’t willing to work hard or buy into the 49ers' culture. He wasn’t lazy or self-centered, wasn’t a bad teammate or any other self-imposed disturbance to the team.

No, this is simply a matter of a player's body succumbing to the rigors of playing NFL football for the better part of a decade. The harsh truth is that this game is so physically demanding that nobody really knows how long anyone has played this game at the highest level.

There is nothing wrong with feeling like Ford’s time in San Francisco ultimately didn’t pan out the way it was envisioned. Over three years, Ford logged 378 snaps and recorded 10 sacks during his stint with the 49ers. There was a grander plan in place when Ford inked that lucrative deal. We just, unfortunately, were robbed of seeing it fully come together.

At the end of the day, no matter where you stand on Ford’s tenure, the very least any of us can do is give the man the respect of acknowledging the driving force of his departure is not an act of his own, just an unfortunate circumstance that is a grim reality when playing professional football.