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.
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“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.”