The 49ers believe they signed one of the best safeties available in free agency.
It just so happens he’s been a 49er all along.
While marquee safeties such as Landon Collins, Earl Thomas and Lamarcus Joyner were on the market, the 49ers went another direction, re-signing Jimmie Ward, a former first-round pick, to a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $5 million.
San Francisco’s move means the 49ers still very much believe in Ward’s talent, even though his career has been curtailed by injuries. Over the past two seasons, Ward has played just 16 games.
Yet head coach Kyle Shanahan says Ward was a key player to retain.
“Ward has played at an extremely high level throughout his career when he’s been healthy,” said Shanahan. “We all know he has struggled to stay healthy, which has been unfortunate for him. He’s played very hard. He’s very talented. That’s why it’s been hard for him to go out there and get what he really deserves as a player.
“But to have Jimmie back there with the talent he has, if he can stay healthy – and we’re going to give him every chance to – we know we’ve got as good of a safety as we can get.”
Ward, 27, was San Francisco’s first-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2014. While he’s played almost every position in the secondary, the 49ers believe he’s best suited to play free safety.