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The San Francisco 49ers elected to re-sign defensive back Jimmie Ward to a one-year deal, giving some experienced depth to their secondary but raising a few eyebrows in the process.


It shouldn't be too big a surprise, as the San Jose Mercury News' Cam Inman said, that the San Francisco 49ers elected to re-sign defensive back Jimmie Ward to a one-year "prove it" kind of deal on Wednesday. After all, the Niners front office has repeatedly said positive things about him and even made overtures about bringing him back if the price was right.

For a contract worth up to $5 million, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, apparently it was.

In many cases, this won't be a popular move. Ward, whom the 49ers selected at No. 30 overall back in the 2014 NFL Draft, has struggled with a variety of injuries over the course of his pro career -- landing on injured reserve in four of his first five seasons. And while his versatility is a bonus, Ward hasn't exactly thrived in any given role after being asked to bounce around from nickel cornerback, to safety, to boundary cornerback and then back to safety once more.

The constant switching of positions arguably hindered Ward's development, especially when one considers he's gone through four different defensive coordinators and schemes during that five-year period. Ward's best season, according to Pro Football Focus, came back in 2015 where he received a 72.3 overall grade primarily working as an outside corner. But the Niners, under current coordinator Robert Saleh, tried to start him in this same spot early in 2018, and that didn't exactly go well.

But Ward, a natural free safety in college, should help with the Niners' depth problems at the position. Granted, Ward was a part of the injury attrition that ultimately led to San Francisco fielding seven different starting safeties in 2018. With the 49ers not bringing in an external player to reinforce this crop, however, Ward's presence does have some value.

That's one area in which re-signing Ward makes some sense. Outside of cornerback Richard Sherman and, to a lesser extent, Jaquiski Tartt, the Niners secondary is primarily comprised of second- and third-year players. It's not uncommon for young defensive backs to struggle early in their NFL careers. And while the ideal scenario for the 49ers would have been to lure in a free-agent superstar, such as now-Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas, having Ward around at least provides another level of experience.

Plus, one shouldn't automatically assume bringing Ward back prevents the 49ers from targeting a defensive back in the upcoming NFL Draft this April. As far as safety goes, players like Mississippi State's Johnathan Abram or Delaware's Nasir Adderley could be had with the team's second pick in the draft, No. 36 overall.

Ward provides a low-cost, low-risk contingency plan if the Niners don't find their future safety in the draft. And it also takes pressure off Saleh having to bank on bounce-back years from safeties Adrian Colbert and/or Jaquiski Tartt. Corners, too, such as Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore.

So, while Ward's return might not be an eye-popper, the team at least has to feel comfortable knowing what it has and hoping they get something in return out of it.

Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @PeterPanacy on Twitter.