SANTA CLARA — Before the bye week, coach Kyle Shanahan told the 49ers to think about what they wanted from the last six games of the season.
He implored them to think about their future, and if they really wanted to be a part of the team going forward.
One player whose future is uncertain is defensive back Jimmie Ward.
The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Ward’s rookie contract, but he is one of the few remaining players from the Trent Baalke era. While Ward is happy in Santa Clara, he knows he could be headed to another city after the season comes to a close.
He understands that the NFL is a business, and that his future in football could be anywhere. He’s OK with that.
“Doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m playing football,” Ward said. “I love the 49ers, I got drafted here. But at the same time, as I’ve been for five years, I’ve seen a lot change. And it’s going to change each year.”
Ward’s indifference about his location is not nonchalance. He knows these final games are an audition for his future in the league.
He is playing for a roster spot. Maybe with the 49ers, or maybe with another team.
“It’s like preseason all over again,” Ward said. “That’s how I look at each game.”
Ward has faced many challenges during his 49ers tenure. For one, he has been asked to play a variety of positions.
He played safety, then nickel and cornerback before finally playing safety again this season. He embraced the challenge, but safety is really the position he enjoys the most.
“There’s a lot to lose, there’s a lot to gain,” Ward said. “Back at safety ... oh my God, it feels good to be back home. The spot where I played at college and I get to move around a lot too.”
Ward also will have to overcome his long injury history. He hopes the “freak accidents” are over, and that both he and fellow safety Jaquiski Tartt can finish out the season strong. They both finished 2017 on injured reserve, each with a broken forearm.
Ward and Tartt both attended Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala. They support and motivate each other, but they also want to "one up" each other as well. Ward said it's not just about who makes the big plays but also who makes the least mistakes.
The defensive back said he took Shanahan's message to heart. As the season winds down, though, Ward is motivated by his love of the game above all else.
“Sooner or later I won’t be in the league anymore but football is still going to go on,” Ward said. “That’s just part of football. That’s the business side. So, I hear him, but regardless, if I’m on his team or not, I’m going to play hard. It’s just what I love to do. It’s football."