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Franchise tag fight could be looming for Chiefs and Dee Ford

Chiefs GM Brett Veach discusses the rise to stardom for Patrick Mahomes and how soon the team knew he was a special player.

The Chiefs have franchise-tagged Dee Ford as a linebacker. He’ll likely be a defensive end in the team’s new defense. And that could spark a fight over whether he should be tagged as a linebacker or as a defensive end.

Technically, Kansas City’s plans for 2019 are irrelevant; Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies that a franchise player will be tendered at the position “at which [he] participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.” But it became obvious in connection with Jimmy Graham’s receiver-or-tight-end fight with the Saints from five years ago that the arbitrator will do whatever the arbitrator wants when trying to figure out which position a guy plays. If the Chiefs plan to make Ford a defensive end in their new defense, that reality could cause an arbitrator to find a way to massage the facts in a way that reaches the conclusion that Ford participated in more plays last year as a hand-in-the-ground, pass-rushing defensive end.

That’s possibly why the Chiefs have leaked the notion that Ford could be available in trade, with the vague implication that he may not fit in the new defense. Well, if he doesn’t fit, why did they tag him? Unless they tagged him simply to trade him (which would be a CBA violation, technically), the equivocation could be aimed at setting up an argument that they don’t really know whether he’ll be a linebacker or a defensive end, echoing the verbal tiptoeing in which new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo recently engaged.

The difference between the defensive end franchise tender of $17.128 million and the linebacker tender of $15.443 million is only $1.685 million. But that’s still, you know, $1.685 million, which becomes even more important when considering the starting point for negotiations on a long-term deal.

Once Ford officially is tagged as a linebacker, the ball will be in his court to challenge it with a grievance. There’s no reason not to; he’s got nothing to lose and $1.685 million to gain.