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Why you should worry about Dee Ford’s knee injury, which isn’t going away this season

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The only person who seems to be unfazed by Dee Ford’s knee injury is Dee Ford. He’s adamant that he’s played through much worse (and he has, as he revealed to reporters Tuesday), but also admitted for the first time this season that his left quadriceps/knee tendinitis, a chronic issue which he says has plagued him his whole career, will have to be addressed at the end of the season, not solved during the current campaign.

Up until this point, Ford has taken the optimistic line that the 49ers would get the issue under control. In the preseason, Ford said the issue rendered him “dysfunctional,” but after weeks of rehab, he was confident it was an issue that would be sorted this season.

“It’s old business but we’re going to put it to bed this year,” Ford said August 27.

Such is not the case. Ford affirmed on Tuesday that it’s an issue he expects to have to deal with all season.

“Yeah, I had to deal with it last year, too,” Ford said. “I didn’t expect it to come back this soon, but it’s nothing that we can’t take care of. I’ve been through worse.”

Indeed, he has. Though, while playing through injuries and pain might allow Ford to get on the field in the short term, it’s not a sign of confidence for his long-term health. For a player whom the 49ers traded a second-round pick for and gave a five-year, $85 million contract, it’s a major worry. Sure, the 49ers have outs after 2020 (his $13.65 million salary becomes guaranteed by April 1), but he’ll still be owed $4.8 million guaranteed after 2020 and had $45 million protected for injury at the signing of his deal.

The 49ers gave Ford this contract knowing full well he had a knee issue, and must have known, as Ford revealed Tuesday, that he played all of last season with a torn groin, which Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had initially termed a “strained groin.”

When did he suffer the injury? Against the 49ers, of course, in Week 3 of the regular season. He sat the rest of the game but played in every single regular season game, plus the Pro Bowl and the Chiefs’ two playoff games.

But it’s not the groin that’s the problem. It’s that left knee. Ford recounted tearing his left MCL in his senior season at Auburn just two weeks before the season began, returning to the field in the team’s fourth game of the season, a 35-21 loss to LSU which Ford said changed the course of the season (Auburn lost in the national championship that year to Florida State).

While Ford did not say the knee tendinitis is related to that MCL tear, he said that he came back from that injury prematurely and has a knack for playing hurt.

“I came back way too early,” Ford said. “I’ve played through injuries. I actually tore my groin last year against San Francisco… You’d be surprised at what we play through. We play through a lot of stuff.”

Those aren’t the only injuries Ford has sustained. In 2011, he had a procedure on a herniated disc in his back, earning a medical redshirt for his junior year before returning in 2012 and 2013 to become Auburn’s sacks leader; he missed the NFL combine due to issues related to that injury. He missed Weeks 11 and 12 in 2015 and Weeks 4 and 5 in 2017 with back injuries.

The knee issue is something which Ford acknowledged would have to be addressed in the offseason. It could well mean surgery.

“We’ll go further once we get done at the end of the year,” Ford said. “We’ll see what we have to do. We have to do something, but this is nothing that’s going to hinder this year. Like I said, I’ve been through worse. So we’ll put a bag on it.”

For now, he’s focused on making use of the early Week 4 bye that the 49ers are on; it could well be one of the most important weeks of the season for Ford from a health perspective.

“We’re trying to make really big strides, especially in these three days,” Ford said. “Three days is a lot of time, so we have to make sure we take full advantage of it.”


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