In his discussion with the 49ers’ beat writers, Kyle Shanahan confirmed that Jimmie Ward will start OTAs playing cornerback, per David Lombardi. This news comes a day after John Lynch stated Ward would get snaps at corner, but at that time it was unclear whether Ward would also spend time at safety. Shanahan’s comments clarified this – Ward will be opening the offseason programme playing at corner which presumably gives Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt the opportunity to start the offseason at safety.
This move makes significant sense. Colbert and Tartt played better than Ward at safety last year, and though the 49ers did seem to like the interchangeability of Tartt and Ward as a duo, Colbert’s performances meant that he warranted getting the first chance to lock down the free safety spot.
Once the 49ers reached that decision, it is undoubtedly wise to ascertain just how much value Ward provides in this defense due to his versatility, especially given his salary this season ($8,526,000). With the opportunities for extra reps caused by Richard Sherman’s rehab and a general dearth of outside corners, this is an outstanding opportunity for the 49ers to assess how well Ward functions as an outside corner in their scheme.
The front office and coaching staff will be likely be confident in his ability to play inside, but the ability to play inside and outside corner, in addition to playing safety would provide the 49ers with the most return for the hefty chunk of change invested in Ward this season. He could open up a roster spot elsewhere if he proves his versatility, as well as having the opportunity to make his case for a contract extension as a moveable chess piece. Shanahan alluded to this in his discussion with the beat writers, suggesting Ward had the quality to start at five different spots, per Joe Fann. If he struggles however, this will be his last season in the Bay, with free agency or a trade both viable exits for Ward.