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Dee Ford's playing time is up this year, but Chiefs plan for him still isn't clear

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

John Dorsey needed some options.

When the Kansas City Chiefs selected Dee Ford with the 23rd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Chiefs GM John Dorsey was giving himself a security blanket of sorts at a critical phase of roster construction. He'd already addressed quarterback with the Alex Smith trade, and the second most important position on a team is its pass rush. At an important juncture, Dee Ford was the selection to keep the pass rush consistently applied.

At the time Ford was drafted, Justin Houston had not yet challenged the single season sack record. He had, however, been named among the top 50 players by his peers in the NFL Top 100, and was nearing the end of his rookie contract. Tamba Hali still had plenty in the tank but was clearly getting older, perfectly positioned to mentor the younger guys as his playing career waned. Hali's work ethic and consistency has been a point of praise since he first entered the NFL -- what better person to hand off the baton to Ford and Houston.

Tamba Hali has started 24 more games after Dee Ford was drafted. Was that part of the plan?

If Houston decided to let the Ghost of Character Issues Past haunt him in the present or was intent on hitting the open market, the Chiefs now had Ford. If Hali aged faster than anyone expected, the Chiefs now had Ford. If others failed to develop as hoped (e.g. Allen Bailey, Mike Catapano), the Chiefs now had Ford. A team with a solid pass rush from both sides could hopefully transition without a hiccup.

Well into Ford's second NFL season, it remains to be seen whether he provides any real security at all. The lay of the land has changed, with Houston in place long term as the highest paid linebacker in NFL history. On the other side, however, the pass rush is the same as it was pre-Ford, with Hali taking a team-friendly deal to play in 2015. In short, Tamba Hali has started 24 more games after Dee Ford was drafted. Was that part of the plan?

In his rookie season, Ford saw the field for only 11.5 percent of the Chiefs defensive snaps. This season, Ford is on an upward trajectory, but it's a slower one than anyone would like to see, with Ford on the field for 21 percent of the team's defensive snaps. The glass half full would show that Hali simply still has it, and the team needs his expertise and talent on the field more than they need to develop Ford. The half-empty scenario is simple: Ford is not coming along as planned.

The road to on-field impact is never as smooth and predictable as fans would like. From the same draft, top overall selection Jadeveon Clowney just now made his first NFL sack for the Houston Texans in a meaningless game in which they were trounced by the Miami Dolphins, a team who had already fired their head coach this year. Three picks later, the Oakland Raiders took Khalil Mack who has been an impact player from the first week. The Philadelphia Eagles look like they're already done with Marcus Smith (taken a few picks after Ford), but the Chargers are seeing the dividends of playing Jeremiah Attaochu, their second round selection, early and often.

The reality is that the jury will be out on Ford until he can get the reps. With another loss, perhaps the Chiefs will officially look forward to the 2016 season. Injuries could change his scenario from one week to the next. And maybe Hali will start to somehow decline, even though he just put on a clinic the past two weeks. The good news for Chiefs fans is that if Ford is not playing, it's a sign that the Chiefs are performing well on the field with their lead dogs in the pass rush. And we'll have to wait and see if Ford is still a viable option when, and if, Dorsey needs him.

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