The San Francisco 49ers seem to be publicly a little bit all over the place with regard to Jimmie Ward's role on the 2016 defense. Trent Baalke said he would eventually transition to safety, but did not specify any sort of timetable. Then, in the first open practice of the offseason workout program, he was playing outside cornerback. This past Wednesday, he got more work there, and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said Ward is one of their best 11 players, but they were not sure where they would play him yet.
Plenty could change between now and Week 1 of the regular season, but odds are pretty good he will remain in some kind of cornerback role. O'Neil said that Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea have learned more of the scheme than he's ever had with players making their first run through the playbook. The team could decide they want to go to Jaquiski Tartt long-term, but even then, Ward is likely sticking at cornerback for the time being.
I bring all this up because it will directly impact his base salary in 2018. The 49ers drafted Ward in 2014, and his four-year deal runs through the 2017 season. The 49ers spent a first round pick on Ward, which means the team will hold a fifth-year option on him covering the 2018 season. The fifth year salary is based on draft position, and where the player plays. Top ten picks have one formula, and picks 11-32 have another formula.
The formulas share one thing in common. It is based on certain kinds of salaries for the position at which the player played the majority of his snaps his third league year. That means, if Ward plays safety for 50.1 percent of his snaps this year, his fifth year salary would be formulated based on safeties. If Ward plays 50.1 percent of his snaps at cornerback (nickel back falls under this), his fifth year salary would be formulated based on cornerbacks.
This is all notable because there is a distinct difference in salaries at the two positions. This offseason, the 49ers exercised their fifth year option on Eric Reid. His 2017 salary, barring a new contract before then, would be $5,676,000. For cornerbacks draft 11 through 32 in 2013, the 2017 salary is $8,026,000. The 49ers do not have cap concerns at the moment, but it is still a notable amount. Those numbers will change when it comes time to make a decision on Ward, but you get the idea.
For subsequent years, there is always the possibility of the franchise or transition tags coming into play. I've listed out the numbers for each below. Again, the 49ers have plenty of cap space at this point, but these numbers are worth noting.
- Franchise: $13,952,000
- Transition: $11,913,000
- Franchise: $10,806,000
- Transition: $9,116,000