Since Jimmie Ward was a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2014, the team has played 80 regular-season games. Ward has appeared in just 51.
While the Niners love his talent and versatility – he’s played both cornerback and safety – he’s been a victim of injuries. Over the past two seasons he’s played just 16 of 32 games and been on injured reserve both seasons. Four times he’s been placed on injured reserve and only once – in 2015 – has Ward played a full season. In five seasons he suffered four broken bones.
But San Francisco decided to keep Ward this offseason, giving him a one-year deal worth as much as $4.5 million. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan decided to keep Ward on the roster, believing a healthy Ward can be a difference-maker at free safety in 2019.
Said Lynch, after announcing the one-year contract in March: "There’s a long (injury) history. But there’s also a very, very talented football player who I would tell you grew into a really special leader."
But in organized team activities (OTAs) recently, Ward broke his collarbone while diving for a ball in practice. After surgery and rehab, Ward is expected to be out of action until just before the start of training camp in July.
It’s not an auspicious development for Ward, who’s being counted on to play a big role in the defense as a leader and performer in 2019.
Yet 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s faith in Ward isn’t shaken. Saleh still sees his retention as a plus.
"It was a very unfortunate thing," Saleh told reporters recently, of the collarbone injury. "If he had pads on, it probably wouldn’t have happened. There’s always risk-reward. When you see Jimmie play, you see his personality, you see his leadership skills, his work ethic. If you’re ever going to take a risk on somebody, he’s the guy. I have faith that he’s going to stay healthy this season, I do.
"You guys are probably looking at me like I’m crazy, but something good’s about to happen for him, and it’s going to be 2019."
OTAs for the 49ers continue through June 6, followed by a full-roster mandatory minicamp June 11-13.