The 49ers carefully considered the risks.
And, ultimately, they came up with a one-year, prove-it contract offer that led to versatile and hard-charging defensive back Jimmie Ward remaining with the 49ers for the start of his sixth NFL season.
“It’s not an easy answer, because there’s a long (injury) history,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “But there’s also a very, very talented football player who I would tell you grew into a really special leader.”
Said coach Kyle Shanahan, “I love Jimmie Ward. . . . 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.”
Ward missed 29 games through his first five seasons in the league.
Ward sustained a fractured collarbone while diving for a ball in a non-padded practice during organized team activities on Thursday in Santa Clara. He will undergo surgery, and the 49ers expect him to be out of action for eight to 12 weeks.
Eight weeks would place Ward as healthy a full week before the start of training camp. With a 12-week recovery (Aug. 16), the 49ers will have played one exhibition game with the second game coming up on Monday, Aug. 19, against the Denver Broncos.
Ward has now sustained broken bones in five of his six NFL seasons. The first four fractures came during the regular season and landed him on season-ending injured reserve lists.
Here is the rundown of Ward’s injury history since completing his college career at Northern Illinois:
When Ward showed up at the combine, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot and was not allowed to take part in any on-field testing. The injury came as a surprise to Ward, who had not experienced any pain. He felt healthy enough to run several weeks later at this pro day, where he was timed at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Ward underwent surgery in March to repair the Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his foot, and the 49ers drafted him with the No. 30 overall pick in the draft.
He did not take part in the offseason program as a rookie, but he appeared in each of the team's exhibition games that summer.
Ward was not active for the Week 7 game against Denver due to a quadriceps injury.
In Week 10, while making a tackle against New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, the screw bent from his March surgery in his right foot and fifth metatarsal broke again. He finished the game, but a new, larger screw had to be inserted. He was placed on injured reserve.
Games missed: 8
Ward appeared on the injury report just once all season. He was listed as probable for the 49ers’ Week 15 game against Cincinnati with an elbow condition, and he played well. As the team’s nickel back, he had six tackles, a sack, two tackles for losses, and a pass defensed.
Games missed: 0
Ward sustained a non-contact left quadriceps injury in Week 3 while running down the field to cover a kickoff against Seattle. He missed three games due to the injury.
In Week 11, Ward was diagnosed with a concussion, but he returned to play the following week against Miami.
In Week 15, Ward sustained a fractured right collarbone when he landed hard upon tackling Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Aldrick Robinson down the field. He was placed on injured reserve.
Games missed: 5
Ward sustained a left hamstring injury in the conditioning test at the start of training camp in late-July. In late-August, he was activated off the physically-unable-to-perform list. He did not play in the preseason, and he sat out the season opener against Carolina.
While playing free safety, he fractured his left forearm in Week 8 while tackling Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Games missed: 9
Ward missed extended time in the 49ers’ offseason program due to an ankle injury. He was bothered by a hamstring injury during training camp and left the team’s Week 3 exhibition game against Indianapolis after playing just two snaps on special teams
Ward, who was starting at cornerback, left the 49ers’ Week 6 game against Green Bay with a hamstring injury. He missed the following game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Upon moving to free safety, Ward sustained a fractured left forearm – but in a different place than a year earlier – while tackling Tampa Bay’s 225-pound running back Peyton Barber in Week 12.
The 49ers had evaluated Ward as playing better than anyone in their secondary at the time of the injury.
After the game, Ward said his injuries can be attributed to how hard 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.”
He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Games missed: 7
The 49ers re-signed Ward to a guaranteed one-year, $3 million contract in March. He can earn an additional $1.5 million in per-game roster bonuses.
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The club expects Ward, if healthy, to start at free safety this season. And it was clear during an open practice on Tuesday, that his style of play is every bit as aggressive as ever. While covering rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel, Ward got physical and flung Samuel to the ground in a drill designed to be non-contact.
Ward sustained a fractured collarbone in the team’s next practice. Adrian Colbert will take over as the 49ers' first-team free safety for the remainder of the offseason program, which concludes June 13.