49ers

Jimmie Ward's injury history factors into 49ers' quest to re-sign him

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Jimmie Ward's injury history factors into 49ers' quest to re-sign him

INDIANAPOLIS -- If the decision were solely up to the 49ers’ coaching staff, defensive back Jimmie Ward would remain with the organization.

But there is a lot to consider with Ward. He has been limited by injuries throughout his career, including season-ending fractures in four of his five NFL seasons.

The coaches like how hard Ward plays. They like his attitude. They like his versatility. But it is also difficult to get past Ward’s history of injuries when making any kind of financial commitment toward him.

The 49ers are seeking to have Ward return on a one-year deal, according to a league source. However, the 49ers realize another team could step forward with a multi-year offer to Ward with larger guarantees.

General manager John Lynch must weigh a lot of factors when determining the terms of the 49ers’ contract offer to Ward.

“It’s not an easy answer, because there’s a long (injury) history,” Lynch said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But there’s also a very, very talented football player who I would tell you grew into a really special leader.”

Lynch described Ward as a quiet person who asserted himself as a leader last season. The 49ers have sole negotiating rights with Ward until March 11. He is expected to become an unrestricted free agent.

“Despite that injury history, when you (have) that kind of talent, there are going to be people interested,” Lynch said.

Ward is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and he has not produced to the level at which he has been paid. Ward was a first-round draft pick in 2014. He made $15.6 million in his first five seasons, including $8.5 million last season.

He started seven games last season before sustaining a season-ending fractured forearm. He missed two games earlier in the season due to a hamstring injury. Ward has missed 29 games in five NFL seasons due to a variety of injuries.

Coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear this week that he wants Ward back with the 49ers next season.

“I love Jimmie Ward,” Shanahan said. “I really hope to have him back. We all know he’s struggled a little bit to stay healthy. But he’s a guy, as a person, I’ll go to war with every day. I really trust and believe in, and I love him as a player, too.

[RELATED: Ward vows to 'bounce back' from injury]

“I hope it works out that we get him back.”

Said Lynch, “We’re going to have to let that play out. I can tell you, we are very fond of him and we’ve got a big decision to make on, is he going to be a part of us or not? We’re hopeful.”

The Rock returns favor, shouts out George Kittle after 49ers' win

The Rock returns favor, shouts out George Kittle after 49ers' win

49ers tight end George Kittle probably had to pinch himself Monday morning. 

Kittle channeled Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson after San Francisco's nail-biting 24-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, using Johnson's famed catchphrase from his time in WWE. Johnson, who was born in Hayward, returned the favor on Twitter on Monday, and "The People's Champ" dubbed Kittle "The People's Tight End."

How else are you supposed to respond to "The Rock" giving you a shout out other than how Kittle did?

Kittle is a big wrestling fan, and the tight end left a postgame press conference early last season in order to attend a WWE event at SAP Center. When he first got put on to the WWE by one of his Iowa Hawkeyes teammates in college, "The Rock" became one of Kittle's favorites. 

[RELATED: 49ers in top 10, Raiders fall in latest NFL power rankings]

Beyond his wrestling fandom, Kittle has as good of a claim for the crown of "People's Tight End" as any other at his position. He set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,377) in 2018, and his slow start this season -- Kittle has 165 receiving yards through three games -- shouldn't (yet) diminish that. His tattoo of the Joker and love of wrestling only help that cause -- that is, unless you're Batman or someone who exclusively watches All Elite Wrestling. 

Is it too late for Kittle to cameo in HBO's final season of the Johnson-starring "Ballers?" 

49ers rookie Justin Skule impresses veterans during first NFL start

49ers rookie Justin Skule impresses veterans during first NFL start

SANTA CLARA – Laken Tomlinson did not have to watch the film to give his opinion of how 49ers rookie left tackle Justin Skule fared in his first NFL start.

“He’s the freakin’ man,” said Tomlinson, who lined up next to Skule at left guard for all 79 offensive snaps in the 49ers’ 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

“I am really impressed.”

Skule, a sixth-round draft pick from Vanderbilt, was forced into action in the second half last week against the Cincinnati Bengals when six-time Pro Bowl lineman Joe Staley went down with a fractured left fibula. Skule remained in the starting lineup for the team’s home opener.

Two hours before the game, Skule went to the sideline to greet his parents, two of his younger siblings and his girlfriend. He said he tried to keep things as normal as possible after starting 40 games in the SEC during his college career.

“Everyone has nerves,” Skule said. “It doesn’t matter what level, you always have nerves going into a game. But there was no anxiety or anything. After that first play, it’s just football. Everything settles down and you just play football.”

The 49ers had a plan to help Skule if it looked as if he would have a difficult time against Steelers outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. But, as it turned out, Skule did not require a lot of extra attention.

“When bullets are flying out there sometimes, that stuff goes out the window and he’s got to fend for himself,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “And I think he did a good job.”

One of the options for the 49ers was to go with a lot of two tight-end sets with blocker Levine Toilolo lined up on the left side of the formation. Toilolo played 10 snaps in the game. Toilolo said Skule benefitted greatly from the guidance of Staley and right tackle Mike McGlinchey.

“He did a good job,” Toilolo said of Skule. “He prepared well all week. He has a great group around him with Joe and Mike, guys like that. I think that whole room did a great job of getting him ready and building up his confidence and letting him know that he was ready.”

Skule appreciated Staley’s willingness to help, including an invitation to visit the Staleys at their home early in the week.

“He’s been phenomenal, giving me pointers, watching film with me, doing all sorts of things,” Skule said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better person to help me.”

Skule – like everyone else on offense – has plenty of room for improvement. He was flagged for three fourth-quarter penalties. He was twice called for holding and was penalized for an illegal blindside block on Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. The penalty was met by vocal protest from Staley on the 49ers’ sideline.

“Obviously, I’d never try to hurt anyone,” Skule said. “I was trying to lead with my shoulder. I didn’t want him to hit Jimmy (Garoppolo). My job is to protect the quarterback, so that’s what I was trying to do. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t get to the quarterback. I’ll look at it and learn from it, for sure.”

[RELATED: Grading 49ers' offense, defense in win over Steelers]

Despite Skule’s penalties, Tomlinson was encouraged that the 49ers will continue to be fine for as long as Staley is sidelined. Staley is expected to miss six to eight weeks with his injury.

“I thought he did a great job,” Tomlinson said of Skule. “He came out there confident with the calls and everything. Chemistry like that takes a while for you to build. For him to step in and step up, man, it shows how much he really cares. We appreciate how hard he works.”