Joe Montana didn’t do it. Jerry Rice didn’t either. Neither did Ronnie Lott, or Roger Craig, or even Tom Rathman. Even the greatest of the great San Francisc0 49ers players don’t always finish their careers where we think they should. It’s a pattern that historically, isn’t all that uncommon.
As another great enters the final year of his contract, one can’t help but ponder what’s next for Frank Gore. Believe you me, it’s not something that I want to think about. Guys that work this hard and are revered like Gore should retire where their careers began. But, for the man who just turned 31 this past week, the writing is starting to appear on the wall.
The 49ers have drafted a running back in seven of the last eight years. Currently, the 49ers stable of backs includes Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore, Jewel Hampton, and draftee Carlos Hyde. The odometer of the other five running backs combined barely reads past zero in NFL miles. Granted, it’s not likely all six of those backs will be on the roster when the regular season begins, but I’ve never been one to predict what Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh will do.
For a man like Frank Gore with over 2,100 carries, just under 10,000 rushing yards, and an additional 331 receptions all in a 49ers uniform, leaving the game in any other uniform would be an outright shame. Gore’s put together a Hall of Fame type career on two surgically repaired knees and a restructured hip. Frank Gore has been the epitome of an NFL player doing things the right way. He’s been the face of an the 49ers organization while they’ve been historically bad. He’s also produced at an upper level as they’ve resurfaced as one of the best teams in the NFL. Longevity as a running back in this league is certainly a thing of the past. But, Frank Gore is a throw back to times when the position carried the load.
Fans, teammates, and opposing peers alike have all been waiting for Frank Gore to show his age. They’re still waiting. Gore’s skill level is still elite. His blocking skills, pass catching ability, and aptitude to tote the rock are still in the upper echelon of NFL running backs. And, I’m certainly not going to be another guy in the long line of many to state that this will be Gore’s last productive year in the league. That’s been overly stated for at least the past three seasons.
What I do know is this. Frank Gore has one more year on his latest contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Productivity be damned. There’s youth, inexpensive youth behind Gore that are waiting to get their crack to shoulder the load for the 49ers. The structure and dynamic of the 49ers salary cap tells me that this will be the swan song in red and gold for the beloved Frank Gore. There are talented, young players (Kaepernick, Crabtree, maybe Aldon Smith) waiting to cash in on their first free agent contracts. I suppose there’s always the possibility that Gore remains with the team under a cap friendly deal, but that’s difficult to foresee/predict as well.
Because Joe Montana didn’t do it. Neither did Jerry Rice. Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, or Tom Rathman didn’t either. The greatest legends of our organization didn’t end their careers where they started. Sadly, the story looks similar for Frank Gore. Make no mistake about it. In 49ers lore, Frank Gore certainly is legendary. If the story is written correctly, Gore will hoist the Lombardi Trophy after this season. He’ll be sent out with this organization the right way. But maybe, just maybe, if it doesn’t work out that way, at least he’ll always be remembered as “Forty-Niner” Frank Gore.