© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
As the gears of the 2019 season began to turn, one thing became abundantly clear; Dee Ford was not healthy, and while he has a propensity to play for pain, getting him through the year would be a monumentally difficult endeavor. He battled chronic left knee/quad tendinitis, then pulled a hamstring which he re-pulled in a workout and when he was on the field, it was almost solely in a third- and fourth-down capacity.
He missed weeks 4, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17, but was available for the 49ers’ playoff run. He played just 22 percent of defensive snaps on the season, the fewest since his rookie year. His 226 defensive snaps were also the fewest since his rookie year (122), but he was elite when on the field.
It began in the preseason, when Ford said the tendinitis rendered him “dysfunctional.”
That’s not at all what the 49ers envisioned when they gave up a second-round pick for Ford and gave him a five-year, $85 million contract last offseason. Ford’s was optimistic on August 27, though, saying, “It’s old business but we’re going to put it to bed this year.”
But that’s all it was: optimism.
On September 24, Ford acknowledged that the issue would likely bother him all year and intimated that offseason surgery could be in the cards.
“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… We’ll go further once we get done at the end of the year. 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.”
On February 6, general manager John Lynch said Ford was not expected to need knee surgery.
“Not as we know right now. We’ll have those conversations,” Lynch said. “But, I think Dee is in good health right now. He was dealing with some of those tendinitis issues and such, but I think he’s in a good spot right now.”
That proved false. Ford said Friday in a conference call that he had a “pretty extensive clean-up” procedure with Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola Florida. This time, his confidence about his health seemed founded in a tangible sense of physical relief than in pure optimism like it was at the outset of last season.
He likened playing through the injury last season at his position (and his style of play) as playing with “a blown tire,” saying he couldn’t believe, in hindsight, that he made it (mostly, sort of) through a full season.
“I feel great right now. I’m able to actually explode off of this knee,” Ford said. “I can’t believe I played a whole season on it… It’s in the bag now, though, I’m confident in that.”
Even with a season defined by an inability to stay healthy, Ford said the game slowed down for him. That was evident by the fact that the 49ers boasted the best pass-rushing unit in the NFL, by just about any measure, when he was on the field.
“Although I had those hiccups going on, I felt a lot more confident, I felt a lot more powerful, I felt a lot more explosive in the game,” Ford said. “It’s crazy to say it going into year seven but it does slow down even more. For me, I was able to see a lot more, I was just a lot more confident, just wasn’t able to stay out on field.”