Ward won't rule out return as 49ers' nickel back next season


Jimmie Ward will hit the open market when NFL free agency officially starts March 15.

While his preference appears to be signing somewhere where he can play safety, the versatile defensive back didn't rule out the possibility of returning to the 49ers as their nickel back.

"I didn’t say I’m leaving the Niners, man," Ward said Monday on Instagram Live. "... I’ve been in contact with the Niners. I don’t know how it’s going to go. … I could be playing nickel for the Niners next year, I don’t know. We’ll see. I’ve got to look at the best situation."

Ward, a 49ers first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has spent nine seasons in the Bay. He began his career as a cornerback, and then started 56 games as a safety from 2017 to 2021. Ward suffered a hamstring injury before the 2022 season, and when he returned in Week 5, safety Tashaun Gipson was playing at a high level alongside Talanoa Hufanga. So, the 49ers shifted Ward to nickel back.

“At first, he thought we were crazy,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area last week. “He wanted out, but [coach] Kyle [Shanahan] did a good job. I know they had a meeting and convinced him to stick with it. He did, and sounds like he wants to go back to safety, but I think it adds to who he is as a player to show he has that type of versatility.”

Ward logged 50 tackles, five passes defensed and a career-high three interceptions in 12 games as the 49ers' nickel back.

"How the 49ers trained me is hard for anybody to do," Ward said Monday. "They basically trained me like Ronnie Lott. I’m not a corner. They forced me to play corner in my early years. I got embarrassed. People scored the ball on me. I missed a few tackles. I was always a great hitter. But you put me in an environment that I wasn’t used to, so you made me uncomfortable fast.

"If I would’ve started as a safety, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation today."

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Ward went on to say that he continues to work out at the 49ers' facility in Santa Clara as the offseason progresses. He plans to visit team headquarters Thursday to work out and speak with Lynch and Shanahan.

"I’m going to holler at Kyle and John … see if they can throw your boy a bag," Ward said. " ... I’d play for anybody who is going to put me in a position to win. I’ll play for any team that is going to pay me what I’m worth.

"It don’t matter the team."

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