Jimmie Ward's career with the 49ers has been far from perfect so far. But coaches and the front office never gave up on the former first-round draft pick.
And their patience with Ward persisted last season as he played 16 games -- including the playoffs -- for only the second time in his career and the first time since 2015. That turned into a pretty paycheck for the safety.
The 49ers re-signed Ward to a three-year, $28.5 million contract. It's clear San Francisco trusts Ward. Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski, however, isn't sold on him. He recently listed Ward as the signing the 49ers will regret for the hefty contract, past injuries and expected regression.
Ward certainly is a complicated case.
“His no-nonsense passion for the game amplifies his special physical abilities, while also setting a tone for our defense," general manager John Lynch said after the 49ers made the signing official. "This extension allows Jimmie to continue to grow in our defense and we look forward to seeing where he can take his game."
Ever since the 49ers took Ward No. 30 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, he has been moved all around the secondary. Ward has played both free and strong safety and even dabbled with some time at cornerback. This past season, he found a home at free safety for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Ward was the sixth-highest graded safety in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus. He totaled 65 tackles and eight passes defensed in 13 regular-season games, and then had 18 more tackles and forced a fumble over the 49ers' three playoff games.
Once again, though, Ward missed some time last year due to injury. He was out for the first three games of the regular season while recovering from a fractured finger and has only averaged 10.7 games per season through his six-year career. Paying an injury-prone safety over $9 million annually doesn't exactly come without risk.
Whether it be coaches, front office, his health or his play, Ward's career has lacked consistency. That will continue in 2020 as well after defensive backs coach Joe Woods left the 49ers for the Cleveland Browns.
There's no doubt Ward comes with risk. At the same time, the 49ers didn't continue to believe in him by accident. The talent is there and Ward fits what Saleh wants to do with San Francisco's defense.
Only time will tell if the 49ers regret this. For now, they'll show more trust in Ward, just like they did with his new contract.