The San Francisco 49ers were extremely busy during the first day of the NFL’s legal free-agent tampering period on Monday.
It started with San Francisco inking defensive lineman Arik Armstead to a five-year $85 million contract before he could really test the free-agent waters. Armstead, 26, led the team with 10 sacks a season ago.
General manager John Lynch and Co. then made the shocking move to trade All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in next month’s NFL Draft (13th overall).
Buckner ultimately inked a four-year deal with Indianapolis at an average salary of $21 million.
If this weren’t enough, San Francisco locked up one of its priority free agents late Monday night. The team signed star safety Jimmie Ward to a three-year, $28.5 million deal, per NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
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The 49ers surprised many people last offseason by re-signing the injury-plagued Ward rather than upgrading the free safety position. The results were extraordinary with the former first-round pick putting up a career season.
Ward, 28, recorded 65 tackles and eight passes defended without an interception. But his importance to the 49ers extends much further than basis stats. The former small-school standout can play both safety positions, in the slot and on the outside at corner. In fact, he played at all four spots last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ward ranked sixth among all NFL safeties a season ago. His coverage and ball skills remain elite. Retaining him for less than $10 million per year has to be seen as a boon for San Francisco. Ward’s average salary comes in 13th among NFL safeties.
Much like with that deal we saw San Francisco ink Armstead to earlier in the day, the expectation here is that this will be back loaded to take into account a growing cap under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Armstead’s deal calls for a mere $6 million salary cap hit in 2020. There’s every reason to believe that Ward’s deal will include somewhere near a $3 million initial cap hit.
This leaves the 49ers with north of $20 million to spend in free agency before taking into account further moves surrounding Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Marquise Goodwin to free up more cap room.
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