The 49ers have long displayed their confidence in safety Jimmie Ward, and in return, he's managed to prove his value.
Certainly, the 49ers want to reward good players, and in particular, keep them a part of the organization as long as financially possible. The 49ers managed to re-sign Ward to a three-year deal this offseason after the safety garnered multiple suitors in free agency. Despite reportedly turning down more money elsewhere, familiarity with the 49ers played a large role in his decision to take less and stay put in the Bay Area.
"It's just a place that I'm comfortable with," Ward said in a conference call on Wednesday. "It's the place that drafted me, and they trust in me. I know the guys, built relationships with them. That's one reason why I wanted to stay."
Ward established consistency under the 49ers new reform. Since being drafted by San Francisco in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he's played under four different head coaches, four defensive coordinators, two general managers and a myriad of lineup changes before finding stability under John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan.
Organizational changes aside, Ward battled through a slew of injuries over the course of his career. He landed on Injured Reserve in four of his first six seasons in the NFL. He advocates the "Mamba Mentality" philosophy in pursuit of the best chance at staying on the field this season.
"It's a mindset-mentality. You can say the 'Mamba Mentality,'" Ward added. "Throughout your career in any professional sport, you're going to go through some type of adversity. What gets you through that type of adversity is the mindset. I've been through a lot, but everybody's been through a lot.
"It's just your mindset. It's not quitting when you get your first bump in the road and being able to persevere through that."
He entered Year 6 with a broken collarbone and a fractured finger that forced him to miss the first three games of the regular season. Making a return in Week 4, Ward appeared in 16 games in 2019, including three in the postseason, marking his first 16-game season since 2015. Ward believes a full year of being on the field will only further benefit his performance heading into Year 7.
"Just by me playing 16 games last year, that got me so much better," Ward said. "On top of that, I feel like I can get a lot more turnovers, the more I get comfortable with it. Then, I've got this new defensive backs coach—coach Tony (Oden). I like some of his techniques and just some of the stuff that we've been talking about: how I can get more involved instead of just sitting back there in the post or just covering a guy man-to-man. They're actually going to get me more involved in the defense."
Ward has become a fixture in San Francisco's secondary. He's often praised by the 49ers brass for his versatility, having played every position in the secondary over the last six seasons. After making a statement at his preferred position (free safety), Ward is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career.
Ward registered career highs in tackles (65) along with eight passes defended, two tackles for loss and a sack in 2019. Ward was also responsible for a forced fumble in a shattering hit against Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LIV. His focus this offseason is creating more of those game-changing plays and generating more takeaways in 2020.
"I'm thinking turnovers," Ward said. "I'm only getting better. I look back on my career and I see all the different positions I've played, different coaches each year, different playbooks each year. That kind of hurt me, especially not to mention the injuries. That definitely hurt me because any time you're not on the field, you can't get better if you're on the sidelines."
Ward and the 49ers defense allowed the fewest passing yards in the league in 2019 (169.2 yards) while seeing an uptick in takeaways from a league-low seven a season prior (31).
With a clean bill of health heading into 2020, Ward revealed he's focusing on nutrition and stretching to eliminate the potential of soft tissue injuries that have plagued him in the past. With a proper mindset, stability and discipline with an influence from Mamba's philosophy, Ward is prioritizing his goals for the team's benefit in Year 7.
"I do yoga and just working out and making sure I stay conditioned and putting the right things in my body. Different types of drills, too, just to stay on it," Ward added. "Whenever we get that phone call, I don't know when we'll report back, but whenever we do, I should be ready."