Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford is approaching free agency for the first time in his career, but general manager Brett Veach indicated the team fully expects to keep him.
"Obviously, Dee's a player that had done so much for us, in particular, last year, that we're excited about bringing him back," Veach told reporters Thursday.
Veach added that new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is in the process of studying the roster and how it fits to his 4-3 scheme -- in which Ford will play defensive end more than linebacker -- but all indications are that Ford will be retained.
The window to use the franchise tag opens Feb. 19, and the Chiefs have until March 5 to decide if they want to use it on Ford. Free agency officially opens on March 13, with the legal tampering window beginning March 11. Ford's value on the tag would likely exceed $15 million, and the sides would have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract.
Ford, who turns 28 in March, is coming off a career season in which he had 13 sacks and 29 quarterback hits, earning his first Pro Bowl appearance and bringing his career totals to 30.5 and 69, respectively. He missed 10 games in 2017, primarily due to a back injury, but has missed just two games in his other four NFL seasons.
The low moment in Ford's season came in the AFC Championship Game when he lined up offside and the ensuing penalty wiped out an interception with 54 seconds left. The Chiefs led by four points at the time but the New England Patriots eventually won the game in overtime.
Keeping Ford could be particularly important to Kansas City with the future of Justin Houston unclear. The 30-year-old Houston hasn't topped 10 sacks in a season since his 22-sack campaign in 2014, and his cap number rises to $21.1 million this year. The Chiefs could save $14 million of that by releasing him.
Meanwhile, Veach also spoke to the contract statuses of wideout Tyreek Hill and defensive tackle Chris Jones, who have starred through three NFL seasons and will be entering the final years of their respective rookie contracts.
"They are guys that we drafted and guys that have just done tremendously in regard to getting better year-in and year-out and being dominant players, and we'll certainly have a lot of dialogue with their agents as we get closer to the combine," Veach said. "I'm sure that we want them here for a long time, and I'm sure that they want to be here, which is a good thing."
"... I'm sure there will be a lot of discussion in regard to how we can make this work for everyone."
Both players will likely be seeking deals near the top of the market.
Hill, who turns 25 in March, is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro through three seasons, racking up 1,630 total yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2018.
Jones, 24, racked up 15.5 sacks and 29 QB hits in 2018, with the former figure ranking second in the NFL behind Aaron Donald among interior players.