Jimmie Ward

John Lynch explains why 49ers didn't chase Earl Thomas, Landon Collins

John Lynch explains why 49ers didn't chase Earl Thomas, Landon Collins

49ers general manager John Lynch feels comfortable with the team’s group of safeties, which is why they didn’t sign big-name free agents such as Earl Thomas or Landon Collins. 

"We feel good about our free safety depth," Lynch said on the team’s website. "We feel we're pretty well stocked there."

Lynch did clarify, saying that his statement doesn’t mean they will avoid looking closely at the deep class of safeties heading into the draft. Quite the opposite, as he reports that his staff always does their due diligence on players that can make the team better. 

“It’s not to say,” Lynch said, “if an opportunity presents itself, that we won’t go there, but we feel pretty good at our free safety spot.” 

One of the players that Lynch and the 49ers staff has always been complimentary of is Jimmie Ward. During free agency, Ward signed a one year $4.5 million contract to remain with the team for a sixth season. $1.5 million of his contract is in per-game roster bonuses, which means he must be healthy enough to play to receive the payout. 

"It was big for us to bring back Jimmie Ward,” Lynch said. “I know that's a hot-button item because he hasn't been able to stay healthy. We aren't blind to that. We understand that. 

“There's a lot to like about Jimmie Ward, though, in what he brings. Are we taking a gamble? Yes, but that's accounted for in our contract with him. Jimmie wanted to be here, and we wanted to give him that opportunity to come back."

Another player that Lynch spoke highly of was Adrian Colbert, who he said had a great rookie season. Colbert was forced to play due to injuries in 2017, but had a challenging start to his sophomore year. Lynch believed he was improving prior to his season-ending ankle injury. 

“We thought he was starting to play like the guy we saw his rookie season,” Lynch said, “that we really thought was going to be our long term answer at free safety.” 

Lynch also mentioned Jaquiski Tartt and Antone Exum as players he was happy to have back. He was especially complimentary of 2018 fifth-round draft pick D.J. Reed. 

As a rookie, Reed played in multiple positions, which is challenging even for a veteran. His versatility is something that Lynch sees as very valuable. Reed not only can play both safety positions, but he also can play outside corner or the slot position. 

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Reed is also a productive kick and punt returner, averaging 30.2 yards per return in his first season in the NFL. 

The 49ers decided to add depth to other defensive positions in free agency by signing Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, but they will likely add competition at safety in the draft. 

49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped

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MATT MAIOCCO

49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped

The 49ers entered the free-agent signing period looking to add starters at cornerback and safety.

They did just that last week on the first couple of days of the NFL free-agent signing period ... with a couple of big ifs.

If Jason Verrett remains healthy, he is the favorite to become the team’s starting right cornerback.

If Jimmie Ward remains healthy, he is virtually assured of being the team’s starting free safety.

The 49ers signed both players to one-year, prove-it contracts. Verrett is scheduled to make $3.6 million, while Ward is on the books for $4.5 million, according to the official contract terms Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle first reported.

Both players came out in the 2014 draft. Verrett was the No. 25 overall pick of the Chargers, while the 49ers selected Ward at No. 30. Both remained with their original teams through last season on fifth-year options.

The 49ers kept Ward and managed to lure Verrett to Santa Clara, then struck a deal to prompt him to cancel scheduled trips to Houston and Kansas City. Verrett is rehabbing from Achilles surgery, which he tore during a conditioning test last summer on the first day of training camp.

“With all the things I’ve been through, all you can ask for is an opportunity,” said Verrett, who has appeared in just 25 NFL games due to injuries, including surgeries on his shoulder and knee. “The 49ers came on board. I’m happy I took the visit here and look forward to things in the future.

“The opportunity is there for me. It's wide open. It’s just for me to take it, just for me to get back healthy and get back out there on the football field and do what I know I can do.”

The 49ers invested back-to-back third-round draft picks in cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore. Witherspoon did not lock down the starting job last season after finishing with a lot of momentum and optimism in 2017.

Moore made the conversion from safety in college to cornerback. One of the fastest players on the team, Moore demonstrated some encouraging signs late last season while starting the final two games. Witherspoon, Moore, and Verrett will compete.

“It’s the NFL. There’s going to be competition anywhere you go,” Verrett said. “If you don’t like to compete, you don’t need to be in this league. I’m a competitor and I’m willing to compete with anybody.”

Adrian Colbert entered last offseason as the starter at free safety. But he struggled with inconsistency and appeared in only seven games, going on injured reserve with a severe high-ankle sprain.

Ward started three games at cornerback and four games at free safety. The coaching staff considers him easily one of the team’s best four defensive backs. One of the team's most versatile player, Ward appears to be ticketed to start at free safety.

[RELATED: Sherman speaks highly of Verrett]

“Jimmie Ward has played at an extremely high level throughout his career when he's been healthy,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We all know he's struggled to stay healthy, which has been unfortunate for him.

“He plays very hard. He's very talented. And that's why it's been very hard for him to go out there and get really what he deserves as a player. But, to have Jimmie back here with the talent he has and if he can stay healthy ... we know we've got as good of a safety as we can get.”

NFL free agency: Jimmie Ward, 49ers agree to one-year contract

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USATSI

NFL free agency: Jimmie Ward, 49ers agree to one-year contract

Jimmie Ward is a favorite of the 49ers’ coaching staff – each of the coaching staffs the 49ers have had in his five seasons with the club.

Despite his history of injuries, the defensive back will be returning for another season on a one-year, $5 million contract, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Bay Area. NFL reporter Adam Caplan first reported the news.

The 49ers were concerned another team could come in with a multi-year contract offer for Ward. But that offer never materialized. Ward has the flexibility to be a starter at cornerback or free safety for the 49ers.

Last year, Ward started three games at cornerback and four at free safety before sustsaining a fractured forearm. It was the fourth season-ending broken bone Ward sustained in his five seasons with the 49ers.

Ward was a first-round draft pick in 2014, and played last season on the fifth-year option at $8.5 million.

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Coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that he wanted Ward to remain with the 49ers. The 49ers like how hard Ward plays, as well as his unique versatility.

“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."