ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave the New Orleans Saints a C+ for their new deal with former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Over the weekend, Barnwell also graded the 49ers giving free safety Jimmie Ward a new deal. I keep sharing these, so we get an outside, mostly objective opinion. I’d have a higher grade simply because there is no guarantee you’d be able to upgrade from Ward in 2020. I’m the biggest Tarvarius Moore fan there is, but Ward, at this time, is a better free safety on the 49ers defense. Here is what Barnwell had to say about the three-year, $28.5 million deal:
The 49ers are trying to bring back as many pieces as possible from their 2019 breakout defensive campaign, short the traded DeForest Buckner. It’s no surprise they wanted to dial up Ward, who served as their starting free safety. Ward has always been a willing run supporter, but the Niners might have kept him deep last season in part to keep their former first-round pick healthy. And it worked: After breaking his collarbone in May and missing the first three weeks of the season, Ward was active for the remainder of the regular season and all three playoff games, the first time he has been able to play 16 games in a season since 2015.
I’d like to believe that Ward will stay healthy, but we’re looking at one year in six tries in which he was able to make it through a full 16-game campaign. When teams pay free agents market value, expecting them to get healthy or stay healthy after a rare run of availability, it usually doesn’t work out well. San Francisco can get out of this deal after one year and $13.5 million in guarantees, but with $3.5 million of Ward’s $8.4 million base salary for 2021 guaranteed, this is likely a two-year, $19 million contract. I hope he can show off what he can do, but this is the sort of commitment teams usually regret.
Going off memory, it seemed like Jaquisi Tartt played deep more in 2019 than he did in the previous season. I’m not sure if the 49ers intentionally played Ward as free safety to keep him healthy, but he’s the best on the team in that “eraser” role. You hope that the further away he gets from an injury, the healthier Ward stays.
With that said, Barnwell has a strong argument about Ward’s health. The 49ers are betting against history, which is a dangerous game. John Lynch did it with Dee Ford last year, and I wouldn’t say he fully regrets it since we saw a historic defensive line performance in 2019, but Ford didn’t even play 25% of the seasons’ worth of snaps. Will Ward reward Lynch, or will we see more of Moore in 2020?