There is a chance we’ve seen the last of Jimmie Ward on the San Francisco 49ers. Ward broke his collarbone on May 23, then broke his finger before the season. That injury sidelined him the first few games before Ward returned to the lineup and showed why the coaching staff believed in him. If I had to describe Ward’s 2019 season in one word, it’d be “incredible.” He was that good. Ward had one of the best success rates in coverage in the NFL, as well as broken tackle rates. A smart defender that didn’t make mistakes; it was easy to see why everyone in the 49ers building loves him. Figuring out Ward’s value will be tricky. I can see the 49ers letting Ward test the free agency market, and if there isn’t a rush to sign him, they welcome Ward back with open arms. If Ward does leave, his replacement is already on the roster.
What Moore could you want?
The 49ers are up against the salary cap this year, and instead of signing a big free-agent name like Devin McCourty, or spending a premium draft pick on a safety, Tarvarius Moore, in my opinion, showed in limited action last season that he is good enough to start. To make a cross-position comparison, think as effective as Daniel Brunskill, but with way more flash. If there is a complaint with Ward, it’s that he doesn’t generate turnovers. Ward has two interceptions in six seasons in the NFL. Moore had one in the Super Bowl, but if you remember earlier in the season, he could have easily had a couple more. He dropped an interception in Week 1, where he scores a touchdown. The ball doesn’t accidentally find you. In Moore’s case, his aggressiveness will allow him to make more plays in the passing game than Ward.
There will be a tradeoff. Moore is going to make more mistakes, like missing more tackles that lead to big plays, and probably allowing a big play here and there. In limited action, Moore missed a tackle 25% of the time in 2019. Ward missed just under 9% of the time. Moore had a stop in each of his starts early in the season. He has no fear when it comes to mixing it up and making plays around the line of scrimmage. There will be growing pains, but a lot less than throwing a rookie cornerback out there. Honestly, I’d feel more comfortable with Moore playing free safety than Emmanuel Moseley playing cornerback in 2020, which is saying something because Moseley does have a bright future.
Offseason makes a difference
A full offseason where Moore is studying, preparing, and taking all reps at safety will make a world of difference. He’ll be more comfortable. Moore will be able to put himself in positions to make plays with his athleticism. We saw that in the first three games of the season last year. He may not make a Fred Warner type jump, but I don’t think it’s too much to think he’ll become a better tackler. These guys live in the film room, and now that Moore had a taste of the NFL speed and what he can and cannot get away with, his second season at safety will be better.
Another reason that the 49ers should believe in Moore is that he, like Ward, can drop down in the box if need be. Moore can also cover slot receivers and even perimeter threats. There isn’t much he can’t do, which is why he deserves every opportunity to start if Ward does walk.
The final straw is money. If the 49ers can’t re-sign Ward, it’s because he’s out of their price range. Ward wants to be back with the Niners and play with his high school teammate Jaquiski Tartt. In a hypothetical situation where Ward walks, it wouldn’t make sense to sign a big-name free safety. Use that money to add depth, a starter at a more important position, or to extend one of your star players like George Kittle or DeForest Buckner.
Moore being on the roster is a luxury the 49ers should see as a benefit to address other positions. If Ward isn’t on the roster, I’m rooting for Moore to take his spot. Are you?
If Ward walks, what should the 49ers do?
This poll is closed
Sign a safety in free agency
Give the keys to Moore
Draft a safety