If/when the Chiefs apply the franchise tag to Dee Ford, they’ll surely designate him as a linebacker, because he has played linebacker in the team’s 3-4 defense. Ford may argue that he’s actually a defensive end, based on the number of times he rushes the passer versus the number of times he stands up and plays linebacker.
It’s a difference of several million dollars under the tag, with the defensive end tender carrying the higher value. And while the tender is driven by the position at which the player took the most snaps in the prior year, officially adopting a 4-3 defense and, in turn, formally making Ford a defensive end, would create an avoidable point of contention in the potential grievance to come.
That’s possibly why new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo specifically avoided applying a label to the defense, or to Ford’s role in it, when talking to reporters on Wednesday.
Eleven years ago, the Ravens and Terrell Suggs grappled over the issue, resolving the grievance by creating a hybrid characterization — one that has never been adopted by the league for all potential similar situations. Ford could have a strong case for a similar outcome; his case for escaping the middle-ground hybrid role and being regarded as a defensive end could be even stronger if the Chiefs were to acknowledge that, in the 2019 defensive scheme, that’s what he’ll be.