The 49ers' vision for Jimmie Ward


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.”


Why Greg Cosell believes Jimmy Garoppolo needs work on his 'quarterback feet'


Why Greg Cosell believes Jimmy Garoppolo needs work on his 'quarterback feet'

Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films, believes 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo “has a chance to be a top-level quarterback.” But there remains room for improvement from the player the 49ers awarded a franchise-record contract in the offseason.

Garoppolo has a quick release and can throw at a number of different arm angles to avoid oncoming pass-rushers. And while his accuracy underneath was unquestioned during his 5-0 run as the 49ers’ starter last season, most of the time, his deep throws did not reach the target.

Garoppolo completed just 4 of 16 attempts to targets 20 yards or more down the field last season for 134 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

[RELATED: Greg Cosell: Kyle Shanahan does one thing 'better than any coach in the NFL']

During the offseason program, Garoppolo appeared to struggle on his deep throws, too. Cosell, a guest on the 49ers Insider Podcast, spoke about Garoppolo’s mechanics.

“Because he has very quick feet, I think people just assume he has great feet all the time when he delivers the ball,” Cosell said. “There’s a difference between having quick, athletic feet and having really good quarterback feet. And I think he needs to work on the quarterback feet part.

“I think guys who have that kind of snap delivery, sometimes they don’t step exactly to their throw and they throw a little bit off-balance, and that could really impact your accuracy to a significant degree. So my guess is those are the kinds of things they’ve worked on. Those are tweaks. I don’t think it will prevent him from being a really good player.”

Garoppolo appeared in six games with five starts last season after the 49ers acquired him for a second-round draft pick in a trade with the New England Patriots. Garoppolo completed 120 of 178 pass attempts (67.4 percent) for 1,580 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions.

Cosell said it is important for all quarterbacks to use consistent mechanics when making throws from a clean pocket.

“Think of a major league pitcher,” Cosell said. “They theoretically should throw the ball the same way every time. So should a quarterback unless the defense dictates otherwise. If the defense doesn’t dictate otherwise, the throws should look the same.”

Greg Cosell: Kyle Shanahan does one thing 'better than any coach in the NFL'


Greg Cosell: Kyle Shanahan does one thing 'better than any coach in the NFL'

There is a lot of hope surrounding the 49ers entering the 2018 season.

Much of that is because of Jimmy Garoppolo.

Much of that also is because of Kyle Shanahan.

"Kyle is one of the most innovative and creative offensive minds in football," cornerback Richard Sherman said back in mid-March after he signed with the 49ers.

On the most recent episode of the 49ers Insider Podcast with Matt Maiocco, NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell offered some high praise for San Francisco's head coach.

"When you look at a Kyle Shanahan offense, I think the thing that stands out the most -- that he does better than any coach in the NFL -- is the fusion between the run game and the pass game," Cosell said. "The run game and the pass game with their play-action concepts look exactly the same.

"And it's very, very difficult for defenses to differentiate the two very often until it's too late. And when you have a quarterback like Garoppolo -- who tends to be a quick decision-maker, a quick processor, he has a very quick compact delivery and then the ball gets out -- I think that just makes it even more difficult."

The 49ers won all five of Garoppolo's starts last season and put up 26, 25, 44 and 34 points in the last four games, respectively. Garoppolo was rewarded with a five-year, $137.5 million deal ($74.1 million guaranteed) -- which drastically increases the expectations.

Garoppolo and Shanahan could become one of the top head coach-quarterback duos for many years.

"When you talk to defensive coaches around the league, they will talk about Kyle Shanahan as one of the two or three of the best in the league when it comes to offensive design and game planning," Cosell added.