Perhaps no player has seen a bigger shift in how the fans feel about him that San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward. Read these comments from last May, which took place two weeks before Ward broke his collarbone. Many of you were over Ward and were fine with releasing him to save $3 million.
Ward started the most games of his career in 2019 (13) and made a significant difference in the secondary. Ward allowed 9.6 yards per completion in coverage, which was EIGHT yards fewer than the year before. He allowed four fewer yards per target, and his QB rating when targeted dropped 13 percentage points. Ward has always been a sound tackler, and he only missed three all season, which helped limit the big play. Only four players in the NFL had a higher success rate when targeted than Ward did, who finished with a ridiculous 72% success rate. Ward didn’t have any interceptions, but he did break up eight passes, which was seven more than his two previous seasons.
Age: 28 (turns 29 July 18th.)
Experience: Six accrued seasons
Weight: 192 lbs.
Ward signed a three-year deal in March worth $28.5 million. $17 million of that is guaranteed, and $13.5 was fully guaranteed at the time of the signing. Ward is under contract through 2023, but his deal reads more like a two-year deal, as the 49ers can save $9.5 million in cap space if Ward is released post-June 1 in 2022. The team made the correct decision to bring Ward back, and I’m happy he was rewarded for his 2020 performance.
How he might improve in 2020
We saw Ward in 13 games, now let’s see him play an entire season. The 49ers rely on Ward as an “eraser,” and the defense is better with him on the field. Jimmie needs to generate turnovers. That’s how he can improve. He forced a fumble in the playoffs, so it doesn’t just have to be limited to interceptions.
What to expect in 2020
Ward said that new defensive backs coach Tony Ogden would get him more involved in the defense this year and not have Ward sitting back playing free safety out of the action. If that’s true, Ward will have more opportunities to make plays. He’s the best slot cornerback in man coverage on the team. That’s no slight to K’Waun Williams, but Ward is better. The 49ers defense was at their best in dime situations, so Ward, Williams, Jaquiski Tartt, and Tarvarius Moore all on the field simultaneously created havoc for opposing offenses. Williams and Ward are above average blitzers for defensive backs.
I’d expect an encore season for Ward, especially as his body gets further away from injury. It’s tough to put into words all of the different areas Ward can affect the game. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve talked to, and when you watch him play, you can understand that Ward “gets it.”
It hasn’t happened in his career, but will this be the first season Ward has multiple interceptions?