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.”