The 49ers officially picked up the fifth-year option on defensive back Jimmie Ward for the 2018 season, the team announced on Monday.
General manager John Lynch said Saturday the team would pick up the option. Just days earlier Lynch was non-committal when asked about the 49ers' plan with Ward. The first-year general manager admitted he did not answer the question directly because he was not fully aware of the rule.
“Yeah, it’s looking like that," Lynch answered when asked if the 49ers would pick up Ward's fifth-year option. "(I) had no clue when you guys asked me that the other day. I had no idea. I had been focused on the draft. But, (the question) made me go check.”
The league-wide deadline for picking up the option is Wednesday. After the 49ers did not draft a free safety, it became apparent Ward fits into the team’s plan for at least the next two seasons. The 49ers selected Miami defensive back Adrian Colbert in the seventh round, but the 49ers first want to try him at cornerback.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said he was excited after watching Ward during the team's minicamp this week.
The fifth-year option, a product of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, enables teams to control the rights of first-round draft picks for one season beyond the mandatory four-year contract.
The fifth-year contract is based on where a player lined up during his third year in the league. Because the 49ers played Ward at safety last season, his 2018 contract is $8.526 million -- the number at that position. The salary for safeties, where Ward is scheduled to play this season, is $5.957 million.
The salary is guaranteed for injury only. The team can void the deal until the first day of the 2018 league year.
Ward, whom the 49ers selected with the 30th overall pick of the 2014 draft, was the team’s top nickel back in his first two seasons, appearing in 24 games. Last year, Ward moved to cornerback, where he started 11 games before landing on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
With the 49ers’ conversion to a defense based on the Seattle Seahawks’ scheme, Ward is being moved to free safety. He is expected to fill a role based on what Earl Thomas plays with the Seahawks.
Here are the 49ers’ decisions since the inception of the fifth-year option rule:
--The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Aldon Smith before restructuring the contract. The 49ers eventually released Smith before the start of his fifth season due to multiple off-field incidents.
--Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs before his second NFL season.
--The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on safety Eric Reid for this season. He is scheduled to earn $5.676 this season.