• Matt Barr

Why Was Free Safety Not a Priority in Free Agency?

Image Credit: Associated Press

When the open negotiation period opened on Monday, the San Francisco 49ers were expected to dive headfirst into the bevy of talent at the safety position. Robert Saleh’s defense requires a single-high safety to be the centerfielder and coach on the field for the success of the unit. Players like Adrian Amos, Tyrann Mathieu and LaMarcus Joyner were available, however, perennial Pro Bowler Earl Thomas was seen as the ultimate prize from the 2019 free agency class. Once players began to be tied to teams, 49ers’ fans were left befuddled as none of the free agents were mentioned in the same breath as San Francisco.

On Wednesday night the wait was finally over. The 49ers had signed…Jimmie Ward?

As perplexed as fans were while other safeties were signing contracts across the league, they were equally as confounded when John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan has decided to bring Ward back on a one-year deal. The collective groan from the fanbase could be heard across the country as they were forced to realize that the team had not made a move to bring in new blood.

The question becomes very simple: Why was the 49ers’ brass not aggressive in pursuing an outside upgrade to a significant position of need?

During the press conference on Thursday to announce new free agency additions, defensive lineman Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander, Kyle Shanahan was asked this exact question. “Jimmie Ward has played at an extremely high level throughout his career when he's been healthy,” Shanahan stated, “But, to have Jimmie back here with the talent he has and if he can stay healthy, and we're going to give him every chance to, we know we've got as good of a safety as we can get.”

This is a sentiment that has followed Ward throughout his career. Coaches love working with him but his health has always been the biggest detriment to his development. In five seasons with the 49ers, Ward has only played in all 16 games once. The former first-round pick has also bounced around from position to position, never truly finding a home throughout coaching and scheme changes. That appears to have changed as the coaching staff wants to insert Ward as the man to beat for the starting safety role.

Ward should not get too comfortable with his job, however, because as Shanahan said at the combine, outside of quarterback, all positions will be looked at for an upgrade. Now that the free agency frenzy has died down, the most obvious destination for finding new talent is the draft. The 49ers hold six picks, including the second overall, and it would not be surprising to see them spend one or more on the safety position.

At the end of the day, the fanbase may not be happy that the 49ers missed out on the big names but as the front office has shown, they have a plan. What began as a slow start to free agency, quickly snowballed into multiple key acquisitions. Bringing back Jimmie Ward on a one-year, prove it contract is just a piece to the puzzle.

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