49ers’ new pass-rusher Ford eager to drop discussion of his past

Dee Ford began frowning before the question was finished.

Yes, Ford’s displeasure was visible Thursday as a reporter asked general manager John Lynch about the 49ers’ large investment in the Pro Bowl pass-rusher.

The question was tinged was skepticism: Why were the 49ers confident Ford’s breakout 2018 season wasn’t an aberration? And as Lynch was answering, Ford, seated two seats to Lynch’s left, interjected.

“Film, baby,” he said. “Film. Film.”

Ford’s message: Watch his game video, which should erase any questions about his ability to replicate his 13 sacks and NFL-best seven forced fumbles from last year.

There is no question the 49ers haven’t had a player like Ford since Aldon Smith, whose 19.5-sack season in 2012 marked the last time the 49ers employed an edge rusher with more than 8.5 sacks.

It’s not often that ultra-talented and relatively young (Ford turns 28 Tuesday) pass-rushers are available. And that explains the 49ers’ significant commitment: They traded a 2020 second-round pick to the Chiefs for Ford and signed him to a five-year contract with a maximum value of $87.5 million.

However, Ford’s five seasons in Kansas City weren’t all sacks and success.

And the criticism he endured as a slow-developing first-round pick who was later injured explain last week’s reaction at the news conference to introduce him and inside linebacker Kwon Alexander.

Ford’s up-and-down tenure produced scar tissue. And Ford is sensitive to the suggestion that he’s yet to realize his draft-day potential after he was the No. 23 overall pick.

Last week, on the day he was traded, Ford said he grew weary of the conversation surrounding him in Kansas City.

“For so long, I’ve been fighting the narrative … of (not) being a solid first-round draft pick,” Ford said to Yahoo Sports. “For so long, I’ve been fighting that narrative that I’m not that good, that I didn’t qualify as (a good pick).”

Added Ford: “It’s crazy how the brain works: It’s almost like, once you lie to somebody, they only remember you as a liar. So once I was presented to (the public) as a player that struggled, I was always that player that struggled. Always.”

Why hasn’t Ford’s 2018 season silenced some skeptics?

It’s largely because he’s yet to provide such production in back-to-back seasons.

In 2014-2015, he had just 5.5 sacks while playing behind Pro Bowlers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. He produced 10 sacks in 2016, his first season as a starter, but success was short-lived. In 2017, he was limited to two sacks and six games before he had back surgery to repair a herniated disc for the second time since 2011.

The Chiefs traded Ford partly due to salary cap issues. But it’s rare for even cash-strapped teams to part with Pro Bowl pass-rushers. And Ford’s mixed-results NFL career presumably played a role in Kansas City’s decision to not pay him big money: Ford was scheduled to earn $15.4 million in 2019 on the one-year franchise tag.

With the 49ers, the words of Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan suggest they have no reservations about Ford. But the way the 49ers structured Ford’s contract indicates they are proceeding with some caution.

Ford will earn $20.5 million fully guaranteed this season, but there is no other fully guaranteed money in the deal, according to OverTheCap.com. Ford’s 2020 base salary of $13.65 million is guaranteed for injury, but doesn’t become fully guaranteed until April 1, 2020.

In other words, the 49ers could release Ford next offseason (incurring a $6.4 million dead cap hit in the process) if his first season with the team is a disaster. They would be on the hook for his 2020 salary if his back — or another medical issue — prevented him from passing a physical on April 1 of next year.

Last week, Lynch noted Ford’s 10 sacks in 2016 and touted Ford’s bright future when asked why the 49ers weren’t concerned about his 2018 season being a blip.

“I love an ascending player,” Lynch said. “I think it’s a fair characterization that last year was his best year. We think the arrow’s up. We think it’s only getting better.”

Said Shanahan: “Production and numbers don’t always mean (2018 is) the first time he started playing well … We have a very good player. And there’s not many people better at getting after the quarterback.”

As Shanahan said those words, Ford, who is eager to change the tone of the discussion that’s surrounded him, was clearly in agreement: His frown had turned upside down.

Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: ebranch@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Eric_Branch

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/49ers/article/49ers-new-pass-rusher-Ford-eager-to-drop-13698287.php.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *