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49ers officially pick up 5th year option on Jimmie Ward’s rookie contract

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It’s safe to say Jimmie Ward will be the 49ers free safety to start this season.

The San Francisco 49ers announced on Monday that they have exercised the fifth year option on Jimmie Ward’s rookie contract. The team had until Wednesday to make that decision. He is now signed through the 2018 season.

The did not select a pure safety in the 2017 NFL draft, and so it is no surprise that the team followed that up by exercising the option. Ward spent his first three seasons playing cornerback, but was moved to safety in the team’s current offseason workout program. There were no guarantees that the move would take, but the team’s draft strategy suggests they are happy with the move thus far.

The first two weeks of the offseason workout program did not allow for on-field team drills, but did feature plenty of classroom work. Last week, the 49ers held a voluntary minicamp, which gave the front office and coaching staff a chance to see Ward in action in the centerfield role. They could go back to his college film for his safety work at Northern Illinois, but has been a while since he got regular playing time at safety.

Over the week, Lynch said it was looking like they would exercise the option. Kyle Shanahan said he was excited about what they have seen thus far. He had this to say:

“Yeah. I was real excited with what we saw from him in camp. It was the first time I’d seen him at the safety position and thought he did a very good job. It was just two practices, it’s unpadded, but he has definitely the ability and the want-to to play there. Again, that’s not why you go into a draft and say we’re not taking that position. I don’t think we really did that with any position. But, we’re very excited about him and the possibilities of him being a very good safety.”

The 49ers have the second phase of the offseason workout program starting this week, and then OTAs and minicamp to wrap it up before training camp. At this point, it seems all but certain that Jimmie Ward will be the starting free safety this year.