What Gipson's return means for long-time 49ers DB Ward

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The 49ers will return their starting cornerbacks and safeties from a team that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense and yards allowed in 2022.

Veteran free safety Tashaun Gipson on Sunday agreed to terms with the 49ers on a one-year contract, multiple sources confirmed to NBC Sports Bay Area.

Gipson is expected to again team up with strong safety Talanoa Hufanga, who was chosen as a first-team All-Pro selection after his first season as a starter.

The 49ers are set to return starting cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir, too. Lenoir took over as the starter when Emmanuel Moseley sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. Lenoir played his best down the stretch and into the NFC playoffs.

The only spot in the team’s defensive backfield that currently is unclaimed is nickel back.

Moseley is scheduled for unrestricted free agency, and the 49ers have expressed a desire to re-sign him. If Moseley returns, he could regain his starting job and bump Lenoir or second-year player Sam Womack to nickel.

Jimmie Ward, the 49ers’ top nickel back last season, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after losing his starting job at safety to Gipson. Ward has proven to be the most versatile player in the 49ers' backfield throughout his tenure with the club.

Gipson, 32, is set to return after leading the 49ers with five interceptions during the regular season while starting all 17 games.

The 49ers' agreement to terms with Gipson on the eve of the start of the two-day open-negotiating period for unrestricted free agents further clouds Ward's future with the organization.

The decision to retain Gipson is a signal that Ward would not return to the 49ers’ starting lineup at safety if he were to come back.

With some pushback in conversations with coach Kyle Shanahan, Ward eventually agreed to play nickel back for the 49ers after the club signed Gipson during training camp.

“At first he thought we were crazy,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of Ward at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He wanted out, but Kyle 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.”  

Although Ward saw a reduction of approximately 33 percent in his play time and appeared in 12 games, he still came through with a career-best three interceptions while his primary responsibility shifted to covering the opposition’s slot receiver.

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

A first-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2014, Ward registered just three interceptions in his first 94 regular-season games. He recently said he continues to work out at the team's facility in Santa Clara and did not rule out the possibility of re-signing with the 49ers.

But if Ward prioritizes a return to free safety, he most likely will have to leave the 49ers to be a 2023 starter at his favorite position.

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