What does the future hold for Frank Gore?

There was some speculation prior to the 2013 season about whether or not Frank Gore would still be able to maintain his status as an elite running back in the NFL. The reason for the deliberation was due to the fact that Gore would playing out the year at 30 years old, which is an age that generally starts a massive decline for ball carriers.

Luckily for the San Francisco 49ers, Gore bucked this trend and produced another solid season. He finished ninth in the NFL in rushing with 1128 yards and scored nine touchdowns on the ground (the second highest total of his career). However, even with a productive 2013 campaign, there are still some questions about what the future may hold for the 49ers’ all time leading rusher.

Despite his solid overall performance, there were some red flags that surfaced in 2013 that could raise concerns moving forward. The first is the amount of touches Gore has had over the last three years. From 2006 (which was the first full year Gore was the feature back) through 2010, Gore averaged 248.8 carries and 14 games per season. He only once played a full 16 game slate (2006) and the 49ers never made the playoffs during that time frame. Over the last three years, Gore has carried that ball a whopping 956 times and is averaging 318.6 a year over 18.6 games. That type of workload is tough for any running back to bounce back from, let alone one who will be 31 years old and has 2327 career totes.

Gore did lose some steam down the stretch in 2013 as his yards per carry dipped down to just over 3.6 per rush over the last 10 games (including the playoffs). For the year, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry which was the lowest of his career. He also had his worst showing in the post season as he only gained 164 yards over three games with a 3.4 yards per carry average. In 2011-12, he gained 482 yards over five games and had 5.2 per rush in the playoffs.
Gore will also find himself in a very crowded backfield come 2014. Barring a roster move, the 49ers will have Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore all competing for carries with him. Hunter and James appear to be better suited for a change of pace role, however, and neither seem to be a threat to take Gore’s starting job away. The wild card here is Lattimore. San Francisco drafted the talented runner in the 4th round of the 2013 draft with the expectations that he would sit out the season and rehab from his second major knee injury. Lattimore did just that and could be close to 100 percent come next year. If healthy, there is a very real possibility of at least a time share with Gore.

Finally, there is the issue of money. Gore is owed $6.5 million dollars in 2014, which is a number the 49ers may not be willing to pay. It’s highly unlikely that the team would cut Gore, but there is a good chance that they will approach him about taking a pay cut. How Gore responds to this request could be a big factor in what happens next.

Logic would seem that the two sides will come to some sort of an agreement on the contract and Gore will continue to be a big part of the team next year. The 49ers have depth in place should an injury or drop in performance occur, and can take a chance on having an older back play a key role because of it.

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