The deadline to tag a player runs from Feb. 19 until March 5, so the Chiefs must decide whether or not they want to tag Ford, let him walk, or give him a long-term deal. Choosing any option other than the franchise tag would be a big mistake for Brett Veach – one that he cannot afford to make.
This offseason is critical for the Chiefs. Andy Reid and Veach have the rare opportunity of taking almost entirely (or all) defensive players in the upcoming Draft for the second year in a row as they look to capitalize on an open window to get to the Super Bowl. You might need to take an interior offensive lineman later in the Draft, perhaps a backup tight end also, but if everyone stays healthy the Chiefs are completely set on offense.
Defense is a completely different story.
One could argue that former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton should hold a lot of the blame for their performance but there was a clear lack of talent at middle linebacker and in the secondary. Those should be addressed in free agency and the draft but if the Chiefs want one less position to worry about, then Veach needs to tag Dee Ford.
One of the reasons you give Ford the franchise tag as opposed to a long-term contract is because of his injury history. His back problems have kept him out of several games over the course of his five-year career.
In total, he has missed 13 games due to injury. This past year was the first season in which he played in every game since his rookie year in 2014.
Giving him a long-term deal means the Chiefs would be taking a big risk on him staying healthy – something he hasn’t shown consistently over his five years with the team.
In addition to his inability to stay healthy, Ford has also shown some inconsistency in his play.
Prior to this season, Ford only reached double-digit sack totals once and that was in the first half of the 2016 season. After Week 9, Ford totaled zero sacks and had just seven tackles.
There’s a saying that people have in the NFL and it’s that “contract years are undefeated.” Which means players typically play their best football when they are in the last year of a contract and looking for a long-term deal with a nice pay day.
It’s possible that Dee Ford finally figured things out in year five, but it’s also possible that he was just giving maximum effort in his contract year. The franchise tag allows for Ford to prove his value in back-to-back seasons (something he hasn’t done) while also protecting the team long-term in case he reverts back to his old ways.
With the addition of Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, the Chiefs defense will now move to a 4-3. Dee Ford played as 4-3 defensive end when he was at Auburn.
Give Ford the tag and see how he fits in this system again. If it doesn’t work, then you can move on from him after next season or maybe trade him during the season. The Chiefs also have some insurance in Breeland Speaks and Tanoh Kpassagnon, who both played as 4-3 defensive ends in college.
If Ford can easily transition back to a 4-3 then great. If he struggles, then the franchise tag allows you the financial flexibility to move on after the 2019 season.
You can’t let him walk
Letting him walk in free agency would save money against the cap, but it would be a huge mistake on the Chiefs’ organization to let arguably their best current defensive player leave.
While you don’t want to commit to him long term given his injury history, inconsistency, and not knowing how well he can transition back to a 4-3 defense, you still need to retain your best pass rusher and hope that he gives you the same or better production than he did last year.
If you let him walk, you are going to have pay big money for a pass-rusher in free agency or take an unproven college player in the draft.
Taking a player in free agency is going to hurt the Chiefs’ ability to sign more prudent players like Chris Jones, Tyreek Hill, and eventually Patrick Mahomes. An inexperienced rookie draft pick isn’t likely going to provide what Ford did last year and Speaks and Kpassagnon haven’t proven that they can handle being starters yet.
The Chiefs need to have someone in there who can play at a high level right now because the team is in win-now mode. Ford showed last year that he could be that guy and he is their best option in 2019.
The franchise tag allows for him to prove himself in another contract year, the Chiefs keep their best defensive player, and they protect themselves from a potentially bad long-term investment.
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