49ers must explore options with Gore's contract

Frank Gore enters the final year of the contract extension he signed in August of 2011.

Really, not much has changed since that time. Gore can still be counted on to gain more than 1,000 yards annually. And the 49ers still rely on him to keep the quarterback upright with his role in pass protection.

Gore’s yearly pay has remained consistent, too. In 2013, the 49ers paid him $6.45 million. Next season, he’s scheduled to make $6.45 million.

One difference is that the 49ers have to account of other players – including, perhaps, Colin Kaepernick – making more money on a salary cap that is not expected to see a significant rise.

Another thing that changes, of course, is Gore’s age. He turns 31 in May.

In real cash, Gore is scheduled to make the sixth-highest total for any running back in the league. In salary cap numbers, his figure ranks eighth because he did not receive a signing bonus with his 2011 deal.

Coach Jim Harbaugh was asked last week what Gore does for the 49ers’ offense.

“He runs the football very effectively,” Harbaugh said. “Nobody does it better. He blocks in protection. And he catches the ball out of the backfield. (He) does everything that you’d want a back to do.

“And then he’s such a great example. Showers us with his attributes every day -- the work ethic, the team attitude. (He’s) just a guy that says the right thing at the right time. That’s a pretty good list.”

Marcus Lattimore, who has a chance to be the eventual heir, is expected to be healthy for the entire offseason program. Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James also return on their first contracts.

Lattimore said the most important thing for him to earn playing time is to perform in pass protection. That's what Gore does better than anyone.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gore was in pass protection 160 times this season – far more than any other running back in the league. He allowed no sacks, one quarterback hit and just three quarterback pressures.

The 49ers must consider everything before determining whether to approach Gore about accepting a pay cut to guarantee he remains with the club next season.

Here's how Gore's contract stacks up against the other top-paid running backs in the NFL:

2014 running backs contracts
Cash value
Adrian Peterson $12 million
Chris Johnson $8 million
LeSean McCoy $8 million
Matt Forte $6.5 million
Jonathan Stewart $8.282 million
Frank Gore $6.45 million
Arian Foster $6.25 million
Marshawn Lynch $5.5 million

Cap figures
Adrian Peterson $14.4 million
Chris Johnson $10 million
LeSean McCoy $9.7 million
Arian Foster $8.5 million
Matt Forte $7.5 million
Marshawn Lynch $7 million
Ray Rice $8.75 million
Frank Gore $6.45 million
Note: The other highest-paid running backs who are at least 30 years old are Darren Sproles ($3.5 million) and Steven Jackson ($3 million).

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