San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch addresses the media at Levi's Stadium on July 25, 2018. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco 49ers busy as free agency set to open, add defensive end Dee Ford in trade

It’s no secret that the San Francisco 49ers have been searching for a pass rusher this offseason, to complement newly-resigned defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. They may still take one at No. 2 in April’s NFL Draft, but on Tuesday, they traded for one.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport first reported the swap, which brings Dee Ford to San Francisco from the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a 2020 second-round draft pick. The NFL Network’s James Palmer reported that Ford will sign an extension with the 49ers, valued at $87.5 million over five years.

Getting Ford is the latest in a series of moves to improve a San Francisco defense that had just two interceptions all season, and needed to find some way to generate turnovers and replace the talented-yet-troubled Reuben Foster in the middle. They addressed the first need with the trade for Ford, and the second on Monday, reportedly agreeing to terms with former Pro Bowl linebacker Kwon Alexander.

Ford — who specializes rushing the quarterback in a 3-4 scheme, but was not quite a fit as Kansas City moves to a 4-3 and looks ahead to paying other stars like Tyreek Hill — earned a Pro Bowl selection last season, with a career-high 13 sacks and a league-high seven forced fumbles.

With San Francisco having a -25 turnover differential, those kids of stats are exactly what defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is looking for. A 2014 first-round pick, Ford has 30.5 career sacks.

Ford is coming off his best statistical season yet, where he totaled 55 combined tackles (a career-best 42 solo) and had 13 sacks. Last season, San Francisco had 37, and only one player in the double digits (Buckner, 12), and the 49ers’ top edge rushers, Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair, each had 5.5 sacks, which ranked 64th in the NFL.

Last season’s No. 13-ranked defense has also reportedly come to terms with Alexander, a late bloomer out of LSU who was picked in the fourth round, but emerged as a force in the middle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the last four seasons, before an ACL tear ended his 2018 after just six games.

Over his first three full seasons, he racked up six interceptions and 335 tackles, including a league-leading 108 solo stops in his second season, 2016. Through six games last year, he already had 45 total combined tackles.

The fact that the 49ers had to part ways with Foster — a former first-round pick — after just two troubled seasons, and then made Alexander the highest-paid middle linebacker in the NFL (four years, $54 million, reportedly) looked to be a troubling development, financially, for San Francisco. However, what makes Alexander’s signing interesting is the fact that his deal with San Francisco is fairly team-friendly.

The deal, according to Overthecap.com, has a base salary of $1.75 million in 2019, but he will receive $9.5 million in guaranteed bonuses plus per-game roster bonuses, which mean his salary cap hit is $11.5 million, not his average annual salary of $13.5 million. The only guaranteed money beyond 2019 is the remaining $3 million of his $4 million signing bonus.

In 2020, his salary jumps to $11.25 million, which is guaranteed for injury only. The only other remaining guarantees are the $1 million-a-year pro-rated signing bonus payouts, so if he gets released, that will mean the 49ers would only take a $3 million dead money hit.

His base salaries over the final two seasons are $12.55 million and $12.65 million.

While the sticker shock was certainly real, the fact that San Francisco is willing to go as high as it did shows that the franchise believes Alexander can return to form when he returns to the field from his injury in October. The team-friendly deal is also a way for Alexander to bet on himself, and a way for the 49ers to mitigate what looked to be a costly pick in the person of Foster.

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