It wouldn’t feel natural if we covered each 49ers player who wished the organization well in a long, heartfelt message. But Jimmie Ward is an easy exception to make.
Not many athletes survive multiple regime and scheme changes in today’s NFL, but Ward outlasted Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, Chip Kelly, and battled for six seasons under Kyle Shanahan.
It would be easier to list the positions Ward didn’t play defensively during his tenure in San Francisco. Ward’s career came full circle, has he played 612 of his 732 snaps as a rookie in the slot. Ward went from playing nine snaps out wide at cornerback in ‘15 to 270 in ‘16.
Jimmie made a home at high safety in 2017. But that didn’t last, as he saw more snaps on the perimeter as a cornerback in 2018 than he did at free safety.
Injuries have plagued the 49ers for more than a decade. And while Ward is far from absolved from these injury issues, his versatility helped plug numerous holes for the 49ers throughout the years. Playing several different positions helps paint the picture of how valuable he was.
During the Super Bowl run in ‘19, when it felt like the 49ers were “back,” Ward found a home again at free safety. It wasn’t until this past season, coincidentally, due to injury, where he moved back into the slot from Week 7 on permanently.
It likely hasn’t hit you yet, but it’ll be strange not seeing Ward in the defensive backfield next season. After letting his thoughts resonate for more than a week, Jimmie took to his Instagram Wednesday afternoon and posted several captions:
“As I sit down to write this message, I find it difficult to express the depth of gratitude and appreciation that I feel for the nine amazing years that I have spent playing for this organization. Being a part of the 49ers has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and it is with a heavy heart that I now say goodbye.”
Ward then would thank the 49ers as an organization:
“To the organization: Thank you for drafting me all those years ago and giving me the opportunity to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. Thank you for your unwavering support, your encouragement, and your guidance throughout the years. You have been more than just a team to me — you have been a family. I am forever grateful for the memories we have shared, and I will always cherish the friendships that I have made within this organization.”
Next up, Ward showed love to the 49er Faithful:
“To the faithful fans: Thank you for your incredible support over the years. Your passion for the game and your dedication to the team have been nothing short of inspiring. You have been there for us through the highs and the lows, the wins and the losses, and your unwavering support has meant the world to me. Playing in front of you has been an honor, and I will never forget the moments we shared together.”
Once a Niner, always a Niner, in Jimmie’s eyes:
“Although I may be moving on to a new team, I will always hold a special place in my heart for the San Francisco 49ers and the faithful family. I am proud to have been a part of this incredible organization, and I will carry the lessons that I have learned here with me for the rest of my life. Thank you for everything.”
Ward was one of the easier players to root for, and even easier to speak with. If you put a microphone in front of his face, you were guaranteed to get whatever was on his mind, with a good chance that it’d be unfiltered.