Pro Football Focus: 49ers should target Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in NFL free agency

The folks over at Pro Football Focus suggested the San Francisco 49ers would be wise to target safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in NFL free agency if Jimmie Ward departs.

The San Francisco 49ers have some tough decisions ahead of them in NFL free agency, particularly regarding a number of their own players poised to hit the open market.

With limited salary cap resources — just over $13 million, according to Over the Cap — it’s going to be tough for the Niners to re-sign some of their top players, namely defensive end Arik Armstead, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety Jimmie Ward.

Ward, in particular, is of key interest. Despite an up-and-down career and notable injury history, Ward’s play in 2019 was exemplary, and he essentially locked down the final line of San Francisco’s defense over the course of the season, finally playing to the caliber of a former first-round NFL Draft choice. Pro Football Focus even regarded him as the No. 6 overall safety last year.

Ward is set to cash in on a lucrative free-agent deal this offseason, which could be beyond the 49ers comfort range.

So, what do the Niners do for a replacement.

It’s possible San Francisco looks at an on-roster replacement, such as third-year pro Tarvarius Moore or by moving the veteran, Jaquiski Tartt, from strong safety to free safety. There’s also the NFL Draft, too, although the 49ers have just one pick (No. 31) overall between Rounds 1 and 4.

But according to Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treash, Chicago Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should be the primary target.

Here’s what Treash had to say about moving on from Ward:

He made his 2019 debut in Week 5 as their starting deep safety, and it was clear that’s where he belonged after he finished as the sixth highest-graded safety in the NFL. He’s projected to get $8 million per year…

PFF, meanwhile, ranked Clinton-Dix the No. 19 overall safety last season.

Clinton-Dix is coming off his one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Bears. According to Over the Cap, his 2019 efforts were valued, contract-wise, at $7.191 million. Based off that alone, he’d be slightly cheaper than re-signing Ward.

But the only remaining question is whether or not it would be worth the switch.

Clinton-Dix doesn’t have the injury history Ward has, having played in all 16 regular-season games since being drafted by the Green Bay Packers back in 2014. Clinton-Dix is a bit more of a ballhawk, too, as he has 16 interceptions, compared to Ward’s two dating back to the same rookie year.

Still, the 49ers have been enamored with Ward ever since general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan took over the front office in 2017. Amid a good deal of fan protest, the Niners brought Ward back on a one-year deal for 2019, which worked out well for both parties.

Yet San Francisco’s hand could be forced if Ward ends up asking for more than what the team is willing to offer. He’s due for a raise, no doubt.

Next: 3 trade-down scenarios for 49ers in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft

And considering the 49ers’ own cap considerations, it’s possible saving a relatively decent amount and getting an always-healthy player in return could be worth the change.

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