The San Francisco 49ers could easily lose defensive back Jimmie Ward in NFL free agency this offseason, which has a substantial impact on Tarvarius Moore’s future.
During training camp and the preseason last year, the San Francisco 49ers were affording every opportunity possible to then second-year defensive back Tarvarius Moore to secure the starting free safety position entering 2019.
It was a twofold reason. First, the Niners invested a third-round NFL Draft pick on Moore in 2018. And when veteran defensive back Jimmie Ward suffered a broken collarbone in offseason workouts, Moore ended up being a first-team safety almost by default.
Heading into 2020, Moore could wind up being a first-team free safety again, contingent almost entirely on what happens with Ward this offseason.
Ward, who signed a one-year “prove it” deal to stay with San Francisco last offseason, enjoyed easily the best campaign of his pro career last year, even being recognized by Pro Football Focus as the league’s sixth best safety. And while he missed the first three games of the season with a broken finger, Ward’s return helped solidify a 49ers secondary which ended up allowing the fewest pass yards in the league over the course of 2019.
The return also pushed Moore out of a starting job, too, and back into the ranks of the reserves and special teams aces.
Re-signing Ward should be a top priority for San Francisco this offseason. But unlike previous years under head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, the 2020 Niners aren’t exactly laden with a ton of salary cap space. While Ward could be inclined to give the team that drafted him a home-town discount of sorts, the fact he’s coming off a career year and is poised to cash in on his first big-money contract within the NFL could push him well beyond the 49ers’ price-range comfort level.
Especially if it’s in the range of $8 million, annually.
A season ago, it wasn’t hard to find arguments suggesting San Francisco was pushing for Moore to be Ward’s long-term replacement. Niner Noise’s Akshaj Dwivedula championed the idea, citing Moore’s terrific speed and 6-foot-2 frame as a commanding presence on the back end of the secondary.
The prediction didn’t exactly come true in 2019, as Ward secured the starting job and never let go of it. But as was the case with Ward, it’s common to see young defensive backs take a year or two to fully adjust to life at the NFL level.
Especially if they’re switching positions and roles during that span, like both Ward and Moore have done.
Even if Ward and the Niners part ways this offseason, it’s still possible Moore finds himself relegated to a depth role again in 2020 and beyond, pending what San Francisco does in NFL free agency and in April’s draft.
Still, one has to figure Moore is going to play close attention to the situation between the 49ers and Ward, as it’ll have an immediate impact on the young defensive back’s future with the team.