The 49ers recently made safety Jimmie Ward’s 5th-year option worth $8.526 million, fully guaranteed for the 2018 NFL season. However, with Ward’s fully guaranteed contract comes even more criticism concerning his ability to stay healthy for a full season.
Why are we having this conversation?
Over Ward’s four year career he’s missed 22 of the possible 64 games available in the regular season, due to a full laundry list of injuries. Ward’s rookie (2014) season he played exclusively as a slot corner which ended after eight games due to a foot injury. In 2015, Ward played nickel corner and some safety while appearing in a career-high 16 games. In 2016, another injury-plagued season, Ward was done for the year after 11 games, and this time the reason was his shoulder.
Ward’s draft profile prior to turning pro warned of potential durability issues (according to NFL.com).
In 2017, Ward was slowed by a hamstring injury prior to the start of the season and started the season on the pulp list. Ward did start, showing promise and flashes of his potential as a former first-round pick before his season was cut short yet again with a broken forearm (injury history courtesy of FoxSports.com).
Ward’s career stats at a glance: 158 total tackles combined, two sacks, one forced fumble, 21 passes defended and two interceptions (one being returned for a touchdown).
Why is Ward still on the roster?
Believe it, or not. Jimmie Ward’s $8.526 million salary for 2018 is under market value when compared to his youth, talent level, skill set, potential, and upside. That’s why the 49ers are more than comfortable absorbing his guaranteed contract for 2018. A case could be made that Ward is the most versatile defensive back on the 49ers roster and one of the fastest athletes (4.47- and 4.48-second 40 times at NIU pro day) with the ability to get from one side of the field, to the other, in a hurry.
That could be why General Manager John Lynch, who’s a former safety himself, is so high on Ward:
“We think Jimmie Ward’s a really good football player,” Lynch said. “We think his versatility is what allows us to be comfortable with that. Jimmie’s a guy who can play safety. We saw that. He can play outside corner. He can also play the nickel. I think because of that, he becomes very valuable. And when you add to that he’s made of the right stuff, he’s a guy who competes.
Will Safety Jimmie Ward ever shake his injury-prone reputation?
Lynch sure thinks so: “Sometimes, having been around this game for a long time you hope a guy like that who’s struggled to stay healthy — early in my career, I couldn’t stay healthy, and I went seven, eight years where I never missed a game. So we’re hopeful that can come. Sometimes you learn to take care of your body. Part of it is he plays so darn hard, but we love that about him, and we’re pleased to have him as part of our group.”
No one is a fortune teller or a mind reader or can predict the future. All you can have is optimism that Ward can stay healthy and help lead the 49ers back to the playoffs while possibly becoming a Pro Bowl caliber player in the process. Was that too optimistic? Do tell… To be continued…
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Content Creator, player break down specialist, Co-Editor, Sequoia Sims