Healthy and productive, Chiefs LB Ford is lining himself up for a big payday in 2019
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford insists he isn’t motivated by money, and considering he’s making nearly $9 million this season, he’s probably telling the truth when he claims he has everything he needs.
Well, he’d better start building a new list of wants.
After four years spent scratching at his potential, only to have injuries get in the way, the former first-round draft pick is having a breakout season in a contract year.
Ford has three more sacks and forced two fumbles in Sunday’s win over the Broncos, giving him eight sacks for the season — second most in the NFL behind Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Ford also is tied for the lead in forced fumbles with the Broncos’ Von Miller, J.J. Watt of the Texans and Khalil Mack of the Bears, leaving the Kansas City linebacker in fairly heady company.
“I put a lot of work into this game, into my craft,” Ford said. “Money is not the motivator. The game is the motivator, and the privilege to be able to play at a high level.”
That’s because Ford hasn’t been able to do that much of his career.
He spent the first two seasons fine-tuning his craft as a backup to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, two established veterans. Then when he finally got his chance to shine, Ford racked up 10 sacks in nine games before a hamstring injury derailed his 2016 season.
He was off to another good start last year before a herniated disk in his back required season-ending surgery after just four games and raised questions about his future in Kansas City.
Could he stay healthy? Had he developed enough to warrant a long-term deal?
The Chiefs wanted an answer to the first question before dealing with the second, so they used their fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
At the time it seemed like a curious decision, given how productive he had been, but so far the big check Ford is earning seems like a bargain.
“It’s great to see because he’s worked so hard to be back where he can play and be strong enough to endure a season,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You’re pulling for him. Those are the guys you pull for. I’m glad he’s having success. Like everyone in the room, we’re glad he’s doing his thing. For the kid, the hours he has spent in the training room getting himself back, I’m happy as can be for him.”
Ford had a sack in Week 1 against the Chargers. He had sacks against the 49ers, Broncos and Jaguars, too. In fact, he’s had at least one sack in six of the first eight games this season, highlighted by his three-sack performance against the Broncos’ Case Keenum last weekend.
“He’s different. He has that advantage to him. Guys off the jump are scared of him,” fellow Chiefs linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon said. “They are always jumping back, trying to run with him. Guys assume I’m slow, so sometimes I can get them. Dee is just different.”
Even more important has been that he’s stayed on the field.
Ford left the game against San Francisco with a groin injury, and an MRI taken the next day revealed a minor strain. But while anxious Kansas City fans spent the week wondering whether Ford had sustained yet another long-term injury, he was back on the field the next week in Denver.
Now, whether it’s motivation or not, Ford is lining himself up for a hefty payday.
Mack set the pass-rush market last offseason when the Bears gave him a $141 million contract that included $60 million guaranteed. Miller and Houston also signed contracts potentially worth nine figures, though their guarantees are far less.
Or, the Chiefs could franchise Ford and pay him roughly $17 million for next season rather than fork over that kind of long-term money.
Regardless, it figures to be an expensive check should Kansas City decide to write one.
NOTES: Strong safety Eric Berry (heel), center Mitch Morse (concussion) and LBs Anthony Hitchens (ribs) and Frank Zombo (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday. … LB Justin Houston (hamstring) and WR Tyreek Hill (groin) returned to practice, though Reid said both were being cautious. … Free safety Daniel Sorensen (broken leg) is making progress after coming off injured reserve but is still not ready for game action. “He came out of last week good,” Reid said, “so we’ll give him a little bit more.”