49ers could find Jimmie Ward’s replacement in the 2020 NFL Draft

The San Francisco 49ers might lose safety Jimmie Ward in free agency this offseason, but there should be plenty of options to replace him in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The San Francisco 49ers are still feeling the effects of their Super Bowl loss, but they’ll have little time to lick their wounds. The offseason is right around the corner and it brings with it a few unique challenges.

With multiple key free agents set to hit the open market and little cap space to play will, the 49ers will have some difficult decisions to make.

One of those free agents is safety Jimmie Ward who put together a career year in 2019 finishing with a stellar 84.2 Pro Football Focus grade, by far the highest of his career. Ward was a part of a revamped 49ers defense that overachieved last season.

Many fans were confused when the 49ers brought Ward back on a cheap one-year, $4.5 million contract back in March. After all, the former first-round pick had failed to impress in his five years in San Francisco and his countless injuries had piled up.

But the 49ers re-signed him and the veteran was able to beat up second-year defensive back Tarvarius Moore in training camp. Ward proved to be worth every penny as he captained a much-improved 49ers’ secondary.

However, don’t expect the 49ers to be able to bring him back for cheap this offseason.

After his standout season, Ward will likely demand a sizable raise and given that the 49ers currently have under $20 million in cap space, per Spotrac, it will be very difficult to give him the money he wants.

Especially with Arik Armstead also on the market and with extensions due to the likes of George Kittle and DeForest Buckner very soon.

Jimmie Ward is likely a goner which means the 49ers will need to look for replacements this offseason unless they’re willing to hand the starting role over to Moore. The 2020 NFL Draft could be an ideal place to look for those replacements.

However, with only one selection in the first four rounds, they’ll need to make their late-first-round pick count. The 49ers are slated to pick at No. 31 overall and there should be a few safety options available if they choose to go that route.

LSU’s Grant Delpit was at one time considered a possible top-5 draft pick but after a disappointing 2019 season, the two-time consensus All-American might not even be taken on Day 1. If Delpit is available at No. 31, it might make sense to snag the rangy, athletic safety.

Elsewhere, Alabama’s Xavier McKinney is an intriguing possibility. The Roswell, Georgia native was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the nation’s best defensive back) and was voted First-Team All-SEC for his impressive 2019 season.

Both Delpit and McKinney are considered fringe Round 1/Round 2 prospects right now but with good Combine showings could climb up draft boards.

Others who are interesting and could warrant Day 1 discussion include Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr., Texas’ Brandon Jones, and local Cal product Ashtyn Davis. Davis is perhaps the best fit and he obviously brings with him a Bay Area connection.

Even if Jimmie Ward departs this offseason, the 49ers should have the firepower to adequately replace him in the 2020 NFL Draft if they choose to do so.

Next: San Francisco 49ers 7-Round Mock Draft: Targeting a first-round running back

It all comes down to who’s available and who they feel is the best fit.

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