SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers defensive end Dee Ford's 2021 season is over as a persistent back injury that has plagued him for much of his career has again taken hold.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said Ford will not be able to return from the injured reserve list during the 21-day practice window, which expires Wednesday afternoon. Thus, Ford will not be able to return to the team this year.
"He's not going to be back this year," Shanahan said. "No, he had to be good by today and he's not. So, we're shutting him down."
Although there had been hope three weeks ago that Ford could get back on the field when the Niners opened that practice window, that hope dwindled in recent weeks as Ford was unable to take the next step to get back in games.
It seems increasingly likely that Ford has played his final snaps as a Niner, though Shanahan said the team won't release Ford this season and that decision will be made officially in the offseason. It's also fair to wonder if Ford will be able to play again or if retirement is an offseason possibility.
"That's what it sounds like," Shanahan said. "You'd have to talk to him about that but it's a back thing and I don't know if there's much rehab for it. You have got to keep resting it. We've done that a bunch, so it's been tough on him, tough on us and just an unfortunate injury."
Last year, Ford also faced rumors about potentially retiring, but he shot those down upon his return. Shanahan said Ford will not remain in the building with the team the rest of the season and will return to Kansas City to continue his recovery efforts. Ford is not expected to have any additional surgeries on his back, as rest is the primary objective.
Ford's time in San Francisco has been marked by a series of stops and starts stemming from his back problems. The Niners acquired Ford in a 2019 offseason trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, sending a second-round pick in exchange for him. The team promptly signed Ford to a five-year, $85 million deal.
Since, Ford has appeared in just 18 regular-season games over three seasons. He had three snaps in six games this season before landing on injured reserve.
"It's tough," linebacker Fred Warner said. "As a competitor you want to be out there. Especially with that kind of injury. Any time you are dealing with something with a back, that's tough. I think he's been trying his hardest to get out there. It just hasn't worked out. He's had those setbacks and we miss him out there for sure."