49ers coach Shanahan updates on Ward’s status, Garoppolo preseason opener plans
Signs are pointing to the 49ers waiting for the market to dictate their approach to two pending free agents who started games for coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in 2018.
Oft-injured defensive back Jimmie Ward and right guard Mike Person have not signed new contracts, though Shanahan and Lynch this week at the NFL Combine indicated they would like to have the players back. The new league year begins March 15, and Ward and Person can begin fielding offers from new teams two days prior.
“We’ll see what the market holds,” Shanahan said. “But we’ll probably get a good feel for that down here.”
Both of the team’s key decision makers heaped praise on Ward, a first-round pick in 2014, though the reality of bringing him back would include plenty of risk. The 193-pound cornerback and safety ended four of his five seasons on injured reserve with bone fractures to his foot, shoulder and twice to his forearm.
“But he’s a guy, as a person, that I’ll go to war with any day, I really trust, I really believe in,” Shanahan said. “I hope it works out that we can get him back.”
Said Lynch: “And I could tell you it’s not an easy answer because there’s a long (injury) history. But, there’s also a very, very talented football player who I would tell you grew into a really special leader.”
Ward played his best football at free safety, an area the 49ers might be looking to upgrade. Seahawks All-Pro Earl Thomas is the favorite name among possible additions, though players such as Lamarcus Joyner (Rams), Tyrann Mathieu (Texans) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Washington) are expected to hit the market.
Ward also spent time at cornerback, where the 49ers have Richard Sherman while younger players Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore are expected to compete to start.
Person, 30, was brought in on a one-year, $915,000 contract last offseason. He started all 16 games, beating out 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett at right guard. Person was initially brought in to provide depth at center, and his ascension to the starting lineup was among the surprises last August.
“Mike Person battled through some stuff and he kept showing up,” Lynch said. “That earns respect. And he’s a very respected player in our locker room. I think every now and then there’s a guy deep into his career, it just all starts to click. And he got that opportunity and he really seized.”
In talking about Person, Lynch was quick to praise Garnett, who has dealt with injuries the past two seasons that have derailed his integration into Shanahan’s scheme after being drafted by former general manager Trent Baalke to play for coach Chip Kelly before both were fired.
Garnett, 25, started 11 games as a rookie but hasn’t logged a start since. He missed all of 2017 after knee surgery that August and suffered a dislocated toe during full-in duty in the 2018 season opener against Minnesota. He later injured his thumb during practice that required surgery.
Lynch said there’s a path for Garnett to re-earn a starting job, which would be a boon for San Francisco if the club didn’t have to invest in a new starting guard this offseason.
“I think that’s why we try to do some long-term thinking two years ago when we shut him down because it was a deal where we could rush him back, but he’s going to be limping all year,” Lynch said. “Instead, we said let’s think long-term with that because there could be big reward at the end of the tunnel. ... I think we made a good decision there.
“... When he gets going, he’s a very talented player. I think early on, there was a thought he’s not a fit for what we do. He’s very much a fit for what we do.”