Jimmie Ward

Jimmie Ward's 2018 salary becomes fully guaranteed

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AP

Jimmie Ward's 2018 salary becomes fully guaranteed

Safety Jimmie Ward’s entire 2018 salary of $8.526 million became fully guaranteed Wednesday at 1 p.m. with the start of the new league year.

Ward is expected to be the 49ers’ starting free safety, but he might not be recognizable at first. That’s because Ward will not wear No. 25 this season.

New 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said on KNBR this week that Ward has allowed Sherman to wear No. 25.  Sherman, a four-time Pro Bowl performer in his seven NFL seasons, wore the number with the Seattle Seahawks. Ward will wear No. 20.

“We had a good conversation and he’s going to give me my number, which is cool and a testament to him,” Sherman said of Ward. “He’s a great guy and he told me the story of why he wore the number and it actually meant a lot to him. So I appreciated him being willing to give me a chance at it.”

The 49ers last year picked up the fifth-year option on Ward, who was a first-round draft pick in 2014.  The salary became fully guaranteed when Ward remained on the team's roster for the start of the 2018 league year.

Ward has been plagued by injuries in his career, appearing in 42 games in his career. He has played nickel back, cornerback and safety during his career. Ward's season ended after seven games last season due to a fractured forearm.

The 49ers appear to be in good shape at the safety positions with Ward, Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert. The club has not made an effort to re-sign veteran safety Eric Reid, an unrestricted free agent.

Ten candidates for 49ers contract extensions

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USATSI

Ten candidates for 49ers contract extensions

The 49ers have plenty of salary-cap space – well more than $100 million projected – to sign Jimmy Garoppolo, some free agents and extend the contracts to retain some of their own players with multi-year deals this offseason.

Prior to the 49ers’ season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, we looked at 10 players who are scheduled to be free agents, and how they might fit into the team’s plans for the future.

Here, we turn our attention to 10 players whose contracts are set to expire after the 2018 season. These players are candidates to receive contract extensions this offseason to keep them off the free-agent market in 2019:

S Jimmie Ward
General manager John Lynch does not seem the least-bit concerned about Ward’s scheduled one-year, $8.5 million salary on the fifth-year option. Said Lynch, “We’re excited to have Jimmie back and plan on him being a big-time contributor to this team.”

The 49ers believe Ward can be a good cornerback. But they see him – if he can remain healthy – as a potential Pro Bowl player at free safety. The 49ers could be reluctant to extend his contract beyond this season until they are convinced he can remain injury-free. He missed 22 games in his first four seasons due to a variety of fractures and soft-tissue injuries. He finished 2017 on injured reserve after sustaining a broken forearm.

DE Arik Armstead
A first-round pick in 2015, Armstead can be retained for the 2019 season on the fifth-year option as a defensive end. The hefty one-year deal is guaranteed for injury only, and a decision must be made by May 2 for the 2019 season.

Armstead underwent season-ending surgery on his hand in mid-October. There are still legitimate questions about whether Armstead fits Robert Saleh’s defensive system. He began the season at pass-rush end before moving to the “big end” position. Armstead has six sacks in 30 career games, and he has missed 18 games the past two seasons due to shoulder and hand injuries.

RT Trent Brown
There is no doubt Brown has the size, strength and agility to attract a big contract. But it is highly unlikely the 49ers will make any kind of competitive offer to extend him past the upcoming season.

There are concerns about Brown’s dedication to put in the work necessary to get the most out of his ability. And it is fair to observe that when players change after signing lucrative contracts, it is generally not for the better.

One big test will be to see how Brown comes back from shoulder surgery that cut short his season and will sideline him for approximately six months.

S Jaquiski Tartt
Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Tartt is a prime candidate for a contract extension. The 49ers like Tartt a lot. They like him as a free safety, but they really like him as a strong safety, playing closer to the line of scrimmage as an eighth defender in the box.

When all the safeties were healthy, the 49ers determined their best lineup consisted of Ward at free safety and Tartt at strong safety. Before Tartt sustained a fractured forearm that ended his season, the team decided to move veteran safety Eric Reid to linebacker. Reid was back at safety in Tartt's role to finish the season.

WR Marquise Goodwin
Goodwin was an exceptional veteran pickup for the 49ers, as he signed a two-year, $6 million contract on the first day of free agency. After four pedestrian seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Goodwin became more of a complete receiver in Kyle Shanahan’s system.

Despite experiencing unimaginable tragedy off the field, Goodwin put together an exceptional season with 56 receptions for 962 yards. There are few players faster than Goodwin, who turned 27 in November.

K Robbie Gould
Gould signed a two-year, $4 million contract on the first day of free agency. In his first season with the 49ers, he set the franchise record in field-goal accuracy, making 49 of 51 attempts for 95.1 percent.

However, Gould, a 13-year veteran, is 35 years old. The 49ers might want to see how Gould holds up in 2018 before making a determination whether he fits into the team’s plans for 2019.

LG Laken Tomlinson
The decision for the fifth-year option was transferred to the 49ers when Tomlinson was acquired in the late-August trade from the Detroit Lions. He was the 28th overall pick of the Lions in the 2015 draft.

Tomlinson got better as the season progressed – a sign the 49ers interpret as the potential for him to settle in as a good player once he fully grasps the offensive system and the techniques being coached. The 49ers are likely to pick up the fifth-year option on Tomlinson by the May 2 deadline.

P Bradley Pinion
Pinion is entering the final year of his contract and would appear to be a strong candidate for a contract extension. He has gotten better every season, and he is still young and getting stronger. (He turns 24 in June.)

Pinion was tied for the ninth most-effective punter in the league with a net average of 41.3 yards. He dropped 31 punts inside the 20-yard line with just one touchback.

OLB Eli Harold
Harold, a third-round draft pick in 2015, enters the final year of his rookie contract. He was used primarily on run downs. Harold’s ability to set the edge in the run game is an aspect of his game that Saleh highlighted late in the season.

The 49ers could buy low on Harold this offseason if they believe he is capable of making significant improvements as a pass rusher on base downs.

LS Kyle Nelson
The long-snapper is the most anonymous player on any football team. . . until he sails a ball over the head of the punter or holder. Nelson, 31, has been very good since his arrival in 2014. He is entering the final year of a four-year extension he signed in March of 2015.

The 49ers' vision for Jimmie Ward

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AP

The 49ers' vision for Jimmie Ward

SANTA CLARA -- Before the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo get together on a contract for the 2018 season, the 49ers’ two highest-priced players at the beginning of the offseason are wide receiver Pierre Garçon and defensive back Jimmie Ward.

Both ended the season on injured reserve. Both are expected to be ready for the beginning of the team’s offseason program in mid-April. Garçon has done plenty throughout his 10-year career to earn a cap number that exceeds $9 million. He was on pace for a 1,000-yard season without ever benefitting from Garoppolo at quarterback. Through eight games, Garçon led the 49ers with 40 catches for 500 yards before going on injured reserve with a non-displaced fracture of the C-5 pedicle -- an injury that requires an eight-week recovery.

Ward’s pay for the upcoming season is scheduled to quadruple to $8.526 million – the required amount to retain his services as a 2014 first-round draft pick via the fifth-year option.

While Ward’s scheduled salary is high, the 49ers certainly have the cap space to pay him. Also, there is no financial commitment for future seasons. The 49ers could approach Ward about negotiating a multi-year contract extension, too.

“We’ll figure all that out,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “But we’re excited to have Jimmie back and plan on him being a big-time contributor to this team.”

The scheduled salary reflects the pay that was set for a cornerback. Ward moved to cornerback in 2016 before the new coaching staff determined he was a better fit back at free safety in the new defensive scheme.

The 49ers need to find another starting cornerback to pair with Ahkello Witherspoon, but it is uncertain whether the team will seriously consider another position change for Ward. Team sources indicate that Ward is viewed as a player who can be an acceptable cornerback. But the 49ers believe Ward can be a Pro Bowl-caliber free safety. However, the 49ers already have two other promising safeties under contract: Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert.

“We like Jimmie Ward,” Lynch said. “We like the versatility that he brings to this team. We like the mindset that he brings. He’s a tough football player.”

Ward missed 22 games in his first four seasons due to a variety of injuries, including fractures of his foot, collarbone and forearm.

“I’ve seen players before have a run of injuries early in their career and somehow they figure something out and they get through it,” Lynch said. “Hopefully that can be the case for him.”