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Jimmie Ward: The jack of all trades ... backup

He may find himself on the bench to start the season, and this is after the 49ers picked up his 5th year option. What gives?

On Tuesday, Kyle Shanahan gave a press conference during OTAs discussing a ton of subjects and one was none other than Jimmie Ward. Shanahan was asked about Ward being the first player off the bench given his experience at multiple positions in the secondary.

“I think that’s a compliment I like to give Jimmie. That’s the type of player he is and how talented he is, that he’s capable. If Jimmie doesn’t earn a starting role, there’s also a good chance he’s the first backup at every single position, strong safety, free safety, nickel, corner, because he’s capable of being a starter at all of those positions, also. I’m hoping, which I think we have, we’ve added very good competition, so it’s not going to be easy for him to start at any of those five. Right now, he’s trying to do it at corner. We’ll reassess this at the end of OTAs and see how it is in training camp. If he’s not starting, that’s because those five guys in front of him are playing their positions very well and Jimmie will be the first guy most likely off the bench.”

The San Francisco 49ers safety/corner has been moved all over the place and now with the 49ers acquisitions during the draft and free agency, he may be moved to the bench if outplayed — at least to start the season.

Kind of a strange place given the 49ers picked up his fifth-year option worth roughly $8.5 million.

When Ward was drafted, he was labeled a safety that played like a corner. Given his size and speed, the 49ers quickly moved him from his college position (safety) to nickel corner. Once he started to get a lock on the position, Ward hit IR. From there, Ward has been moved all over the place from corner to safety back to corner, and now he may be moved to the bench if outplayed by the rest of the secondary. At this point, Ward is no doubt the jack-of-all-trades on the defense. He can come and play any position at a high level.

He’s also an $8.5 million player that will be utilized in an inevitable injury. In a perfect world, no one gets injured. Obviously, the NFL is not operating in a perfect world, and if placed on the bench to start, there’s no doubt Ward will take the field at some point — though $8.5 million for this situation sounds a bit odd. Given that Ward’s option was picked up after last year’s draft, one has to wonder if the 49ers even saw this scenario playing out.

The competition aspect totally makes sense. No spot should be safe on the team, but if management even thought Ward would be contained to the bench, especially with his newfound versatility, wouldn’t $8.5 million be a bit much? Let’s not forget Ward has played in 16 games for only one season (2015).

It seems like with Ward, the 49ers know they have a very talented player. One they can plug in any hole and be satisfied. The problem is, they also simply do not know what to do with him because while he’s a jack of all trades, he may become a master of none. He’s a guy who can play four different positions on the field, but he may not start at any of them depending on how training camp goes. All of this is an if, but if the 49ers saw this potentially happening, he’s now the highest paid backup on the defense.

And $8.5 million seems a bit steep for that.