Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) runs against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers: The Frank Gore Conundrum

Jan 19, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) runs between Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) and cornerback Richard Sherman (25) during the first half of the 2013 NFC Championship football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

You would pretty hard pressed to find someone in the football universe, 49ers fan or not, that doesn’t respect Frank Gore. Gore has been the 49ers’ workhorse for years. Even when the 49ers were the laughingstock of the league, Gore was the lone bright spot on the team. He was the entire offense were the better part of his career, and even in his ninth year he was the premier back. But here’s where the problem lies: Is his age and production worth his cap hit?

Gore is due to make 6.5 million next season. With lots of young key players needing new contracts, the 49ers are sure to cut expendable players with big paydays. Is Gore one of the expendable players?

Gore is 30 years old and will be 31 by the time next season starts. For the past few years, Gore’s ability and durability has been questioned because of his age. He has responded with 1000 yard seasons every single year. But what a lot of people are noticing is Gore’s drop in productivity towards the end of the season.

Gore is still a good running back, no doubt about it. But he’s not superhuman and his age will and does catch up to him eventually. When the season begins, Gore looks like his old self. But as the season progresses, his yards per carry starts to go down. In his last 10 games this season, he only reached over four yards per carry three times. And in two of those games, his average was inflated because of long runs late in the game.

Even with his diminishing speed and durability, Gore has proved that he can still be a good and patient runner that can get tough yards. So why not just let him play out his contract and keep him for one more year? Well this year is a little different than the last couple.

In years past, the 49ers haven’t had an adequate replacement for Gore. They were able to put off this decision for so long because he was their only real option and he was still putting up good numbers. Now, the 49ers have a potential replacement in the works.

The 49ers drafted Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of last year’s draft. The only reason why Lattimore fell so far, was because he suffered two gruesome leg injuries in back-to-back years. The 49ers are hoping that Lattimore will be 100% when they call on his number. If he is 100%, then Lattimore could be the potential replacement as the offense’s premier back.

The 49ers have two options with Gore. They can either release him outright and save the cap hit, or they can try and re-negotiate Gore’s contract. The second option is probably what most 49ers’ fans want to see, but if you have a younger player that can play as well or better, then why waste time, money, and a roster spot. Just save his entire salary and spread it somewhere else. That is how the front office will look at it.

Also, Gore knows he’s not getting any younger and getting hit as many times and he does takes a toll on the body. It’s not guaranteed that he would even accept to have his contract re-negotiated. Gore is smart and he knows he has to get as much money as he possibly can when he can.

The 49ers will have four running backs including Gore under contract and could even bring back Anthony Dixon for his special teams play, locker room chemistry, and insurance in case Lattimore doesn’t work out as well as they hope. Lattimore, Hunter, James, and Dixon, are all cheaper than Gore, and the 49ers could probably get the same production out of all of them that they would with Gore.

But is it worth the gamble?

Is it worth to let Gore go and put all your trust in Lattimore’s knees? The 49ers and their fans would love for Gore to finish his career in San Francisco. Unfortunately, this is a business and the coaches have to do what is best for the team. If they think Lattimore is ready to play and that letting Gore go and saving a 6.5 million dollar cap hit will help the team, then they will do it.

Tags: NFL San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore

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