PFF Names Jimmie Ward as 49ers’ Most Improved Player
Jose Luis Sanchez III
The success the San Francisco 49ers had in 2019 snuck up on the football world. No one had expected this team to be such a dominant force in the league after an abysmal 2018 season.
The same can be said about safety Jimmie Ward. When the 49ers brought Ward back on a one-year $5 million deal, it was viewed more so as a stop gap signing. That the 49ers will still be looking for their future starting safety. He had hardly showed any promise as a starter, mainly due to injuries constantly plaguing him.
However, Ward completely stormed onto the scene in 2019 after having his healthiest season since 2015.
It also helped that he was able to play his predominant safety position exclusively, which wasn’t the case in years prior. Ward’s season was such a surprise that Pro Football Focus named him as the 49ers’ most improved player.
"Ward's 84.9 overall grade ranked sixth among safeties, and he was also one of the 10 most valuable safeties in the league, per PFF WAR. As the team's primary free safety, he played a big part in San Francisco's league-leading deep coverage unit that allowed just 10 completions on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, six fewer than any other NFL team."
It’s amazing what a mostly healthy season did for Ward. That just shows that he needed the opportunity to showcase his abilities. What he showed was that he was a versatile safety that could play in the box or play single-high with phenomenal range. It’s no wonder why defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was so adamant early in the season that Ward was one of the best players on defense.
Now the 49ers face a fork in the road with Ward. Do they re-sign him to an extension? Or do they let him walk and go with a younger cheaper option?
Ward has certainly earned his big payday, but he likely will be out of the Niners’ price range due to their limited salary cap space. The 49ers have to decide on what to do with a plethora of players who are slated to be unrestricted free agents. Players like Arik Armstead and Emmanuel Sanders are at the top of the list.
Not to mention that they are working on making George Kittle the richest tight end in the game. The 49ers' hands are tied with these offseason decisions because of limited cap space. Ward may be a player that the Niners have to bite the bullet on. It will be interesting to see what choice they elect, especially with Saleh's strong infatuation with Ward.