TAMPA, Fla. — Jimmie Ward sustained a fracture Sunday, the fourth time in his five NFL seasons that the 49ers defensive back’s year has come to an end with a broken bone.
“I’m down about it, but at the same time, it’s just a part of football and the way I play,” said Ward, who left the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after just four plays with a fractured left forearm. “Just go out and lay it on the line each play because you never know when it’s your last play.”
Ward might have played his final game with the 49ers. He returned for this season on the fifth-year option as a 2014 first-round draft pick. He made $8.526 million in salary this season and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the spring.
Ward said his history of injuries probably is related to the way he plays.
“I play physical,” Ward said. “I don’t know no other way but to play. When I’m at corner, I’m physical. Nickel, physical. Safety, physical. I’m just a tough bird.
“When it happens, it happens. I’ve been here before. I’m just going to grind and get back.”
Ward went on injured reserve in his rookie season with a foot fracture. In 2015, he played all 16 games for the only time in his career. In 2016, he sustained a broken collarbone.
Last year, Ward appeared in just seven games before his season ended with a broken left forearm. The injury he sustained Sunday while making a tackle on Bucs running back Peyton Barber was to the same forearm but in a different location.
“Everything felt normal, everything felt fine when I got up,” Ward said. “And I was starting to move my wrist around and I felt clicks, and I tried to play another play because I knew it was probably broke.
“So I was trying to get me one more play. And it was a false start. So I felt like that was God telling me just, ‘Nah, take it in.’ So that’s when I took a knee and got an X-ray. I told them it was messed up. Before I even got the X-ray, I knew what time it was.”
Ward should receive some attention on the free-agent market, though teams might be hesitant to offer him a multiyear contract because of his injury history.
Ward’s versatility during his five seasons with the 49ers was a blessing and a curse. The team counted on him to fill in wherever he was needed, but he never fully established himself at any starting position.
“Safety is easy for me. It’s natural for me,” Ward said. “I just started playing corner when I got in the league. So each play, each game, I just started to get better, just like I was getting better at safety.
“I’ll be all right. I’ll bounce back and ball.”