SANTA CLARA, Calif. — For the primary 4 and a part seasons of his occupation, San Francisco 49ers protection Jimmie Ward controlled to keep away from a minimum of one harsh truth of lifestyles within the NFL: the league’s non-prevent rumor mill. To that time, Ward were thru his proportion of adversity, most commonly within the type of accidents and a continuously converting position, however controlled to stay his ft planted at the most effective staff he’d ever identified.
That all appeared adore it used to be going to modify simply earlier than Halloween 2018 when Ward, who had most commonly resisted the urge to embody quite a lot of social media platforms, stood at a podium answering questions from newshounds when he used to be requested a few rumor he used to be to be had in industry.
“I said, ‘Really? No, I didn’t know that,” Ward stated. “It was funny, but that’s how I found out.”
What used to be unsightly on the time has turn out to be one thing of a turning level in his occupation, permitting Ward to peer the sport from a special approach. When Ward returns from a hamstring damage, both Sunday on the Carolina Panthers (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS) or within the very close to long run, he’s going to step into the only position virtually no person will have envisioned for him early in his occupation: San Francisco’s longest-tenured participant.
Ward is starting his 9th NFL season, all with the staff which spent the No. 30 pick out within the 2014 NFL draft on him. Should Ward make it thru 2022 and, at minimal, signal some other one-year take care of the Niners, he’s going to land a place at the 10-year membership within the staff’s facility, a sacred area reserved for footage of those that play a minimum of a complete decade for the staff. Joe Staley is the latest addition to the wall, but it surely additionally contains all-time legends equivalent to Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott. Ward is tantalizingly with regards to becoming a member of that celebrity-studded team.
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“It would mean a lot,” Ward stated. “It’s hard to get there, though. You know, it would be different if I had one more year on my contract, but I don’t. I may make it, I may not, who knows? We’ll see.”
Over the previous 3 years, Ward has after all received popularity past the 49ers’ facility, too. It presentations up within the titles he is added to his resume: beginning loose protection, staff captain and one of the vital NFL’s best 100 gamers (No. 96 in step with NFL Network), the latter two of which can be new designations for him.
For a participant who ignored 31 video games and bounced between out of doors nook, nickel nook and loose protection underneath 4 other defensive coordinators in his first 5 seasons, Ward has after all discovered his best possible place, higher damage good fortune (the hot hamstring factor however) and the voice that is made him one of the vital staff’s most beneficial veterans and constant trash talkers.
“When I first got here, Jimmie didn’t say much on the field, but I can see him now being in more of that leadership role,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans stated. “He’s going to be consistent. He’s going to swarm to the ball. He’s going to be relentless. He’s going to compete every single day… He’s one of the best safeties in this league.”
With the possible exceptions of linebacker Fred Warner and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, no voice rings out on the practice field like Ward’s. Ward has even become a more prominent presence on social media, offering critiques and trash talk of the likes of Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf, free-agent wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and Chiefs tight finish Travis Kelce, among others. In May, Ward even went as far as to mention he is “now not very likable” and that he can “communicate my s— as a result of I’m gonna again it up.”
Ward’s teammates aren’t immune to his verbal jabs. Throughout the offseason program and through training camp, Ward relentlessly badgered Niners quarterback Trey Lance, constantly reminding him of the dangers of throwing his direction. Mixed in with the trash talk is plenty of guidance for his younger teammates. Warner goes to Ward for tips and tricks on how to succeed in man coverage, second-year strong safety Talanoa Hufanga marvels at Ward’s confidence and command of a huddle and safeties coach Daniel Bullocks believes Ward has the makings of a future coach.
“He set the usual in that protection room,” Bullocks said.
In Ward’s mind, that standard extends beyond the Bay Area.
“I think like I’m one of the vital best possible safeties within the league, however I simply gotta get turnovers,” Ward said. “I believe myself best 5 in a large number of classes but even so turnovers.”
That Ward is even as close as he is to 49ers hallowed ground is a testament to his refusal to be cast aside like many of the players who cycled through before Shanahan and Lynch arrived in 2017. At the time, Ward was skeptical of another coaching change, as Shanahan was the Niners’ fourth head coach in as many seasons and general manager Trent Baalke, the man who drafted him, left too.
Ward knew he had no equity with the new Niners regime, noting that he didn’t think Shanahan or Lynch “believed in a large number of gamers” who were holdovers from 2016. But Ward got at least one significant vote of confidence before playing for Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh: The Niners picked up his fifth-year option, guaranteeing him more than $8.5 million for 2018. While Ward appreciated the gesture — he later cited it as a reason for staying with the Niners for less money than other teams offered in 2019 and 2020 — it was Saleh and Shanahan’s decision to move him to free safety full time that resonated most.
Ward’s arduous-charging taste made the Niners take realize but in addition resulted in accidents, together with a fractured forearm and damaged forearm in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Those accidents restricted him to 16 video games over the ones two seasons and sparked the ones pesky industry rumors. Because it used to be his first time listening to his title in industry talks, Ward wasn’t certain who to imagine. He felt like there used to be a minimum of some reality to it, however Lynch went to Ward after the awkward press convention and temporarily confident him he wasn’t being traded. Ward hasn’t forgotten the sensation.
“Every year, I never feel like I’m safe,” Ward stated. “You see all the injuries that happen every day. You never know when this could be your last play … I don’t let that affect me on the field and how I treat people.”
Once wholesome in 2019, Ward posted 60 tackles, a sack and 8 move breakups in 13 video games. He headed to unrestricted loose company, the place he became down a extra profitable be offering from the Las Vegas Raiders to stick with the Niners. For the primary time in his occupation, Ward felt at house, signing the three-year, $28.5 million deal that expires after this season.
Shanahan’s religion in Ward used to be rooted in the concept that maximum of his accidents have been unlucky injuries, now not nagging problems. Since, Ward has grown to turn out to be a Shanahan favourite, pronouncing a couple of instances if he may put on the jersey of any 49ers participant it will be Ward’s.
“He’s been our best safety the whole time we’ve been here,” Shanahan stated. “And the only thing that’s held him back is injuries … When he stays healthy, everyone sees the type of player he is.”
And what a fixture he is turn out to be.