It's no secret that over the past six years, Frank Gore has been the workhorse back for the 49ers. Since the end of the Steve Mariucci era in 2003, the 49ers offense has been mediocre, at best. However, the one constant was Frank Gore after his emergence in 2005. Since taking over the starting role from former Niner Kevan Barlow, Frank Gore has been the face of the Niners offense. A former two time Pro Bowl selection, Gore has consistently shown that not only is he a dynamic player, he is a leader that loves his team.
At 28 years old, Gore is in the prime of his career. However, this offseason, he used the extended time to recover from a hip injury that sat him out over the remaining five games of last season. Now fully recovered, he has quietly said that he is displeased with his current contract situation. With one year left on his current deal, he is looking for a contract similar to what DeAngelo Williams inked in Carolina ( 5 years, 43 million with 21 million guaranteed). Is Williams a better back than Gore? Certainly not. They both have unique playing styles that make them dynamic. The Panthers wanted to keep their core group of players for the foreseeable future and they had to spend big to keep Williams. It's not to say that Gore isn't worth the deal, but as fans, we must look at it objectively. The career of an NFL running back is the shortest of any other position. It's not likely that Williams will even see the end of that contract considering that he too is 28.
So what now for the 49ers? Their star back wants a big deal or go somewhere where he will. There will be plenty of teams lined to to acquire Gore's services. But at what price? Gore's injury history is extensive: Two major surgeries on each knee, surgery on both shoulders, plus the recent hip injury. His body, frankly, just has more mileage on it than Williams at this point. So if the Niners were to trade Gore, would it really be the worst thing for the team?
This slide show will touch on why a trade could actually benefit the team in the long run while Gore still has value.
Much like the old age strong safety and the blocking fullback, the number of featured runners in the league has progressively dwindled as the game of football has evolved.
When looking back at the past 10 Super Bowl Champions, none of the winning teams had a classic featured back. Gone are the days of Emmit Smith or Barry Sanders carrying the ball 30 plus times a game. Many of the successful teams in the NFL employ the running back by committee approach to the game. It keeps players fresh, reduces the frequency of injuries at the position, and most importantly, lengthens a running backs career.
Frank Gore hates to come off the field. He wants to carry the load all the time and that has led to the numerous injuries. When having a featured runner on the team, it allows defenses to key in on that one player since he has a set running style. Gore's one cut and hit the hole style isn't as hard to defend with the evolution of defensive players in today's NFL. The game has always been predicated on progression and evolution.
In Gore's defense, he had never had a true capable back up to carry the load when he went down with an injury. Michael Robinson, Glen Coffee, Anthony Dixon are all the same type of runner that Gore is, but do not have anything close to his vision and instincts. A true complement to Gore would be a slasher type back, which is what they now have in rookie, Kendall Hunter.
The new regime in San Fransisco likes Frank Gore's ability, but if they can get the same production from a committee of backs, losing Gore would not hinder them as much as many people may think.
Anthony Dixon is a good runner with lots of promise, but he's still learning the nuances of NFL style running. At 6'1" and 233 lbs, he is a panzer tank compared to the 5'7", 199 lbs Kendall Hunter. Dixon could end up being a good NFL back once he learns how to use his body as a weapon against defenses instead of being a target due to his upright running style. His incredible upper body strength makes it difficult to tackle him up high or to strip the ball from his hands. Most of all, Dixon has displayed amazing agility for a runner his size.
Can't Gore do everything Dixon can? Absolutely. Gore has gone to the Pro-Bowl for a reason. Although smaller than Dixon, he runs just as hard, if not harder. But, because he's smaller, running hard tends to lead to over exertion, which in turn, leads to mental errors like untimely fumbling.
As long as Dixon and Hunter continue to improve as complete runners in regards to the running styles, the two of them can ultimately put forth the production that Gore has consistently put forth for the 49ers over the course of his career.
It used to be believed that the team with the most draft picks was a draft winner by the end of it. Contrary to popular belief, that is rarely the case.
Just ask the Washington Redskins.
As much as 49er fans were displeased with former coach, Mike Nolan, he actually had a draft strategy in mind to bring in the best talent to San Fransisco. Where he faced problems was not having the proper coaching staff to develop those players into capable starters or even Pro-Bowlers. Players like Gore, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis and Joe Staley are the types that could excel in any system or scheme, so developing them isn't difficult. But other players like Dashon Goldson , Ray McDonald and former Niner, Kentwan Balmer, are players with good potential, but need more developmental time.
The importance of coaching staffs are key to a teams success. If the 49ers were to trade Gore now while he still has value, the team would benefit by adding key players at important positions. For instance, a possible trade of Gore could net the Niners an additional first round pick. A pick the team could use to draft a top flight cornerback that could be developed in a perennial Pro-Bowler, rather than pay top dollar for a free agent whose best days are likely already behind him.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have a plan in store to build the team back to respectability and eventually, prominence. If trading Gore puts them a step closer to accomplishing that goal, then it would not be a hindrance for them to do so.
It's not always the team with the most picks that wins on draft day, but the team that gets the most value with the picks they have.
When watching 49er games over the course of the time Alex Smith and Frank Gore are on the field together, very rarely do both players play well during the same game. Throughout his career, Gore has operated better when running with a fullback in front of him out a power running formation. Not surprisingly, these are the same kinds of formations that Smith struggles to get passing rhythm out of. Smith operates best when playing in the spread with a back who is more of a slasher type. When Brian Westbrook played on the field with Alex Smith in home games against Seattle and Arizona last season, Smith had two of his better games of the year. Westbrook's style complements Smith's strengths more than Gore does.
When Troy Smith was in the line up, it was more evident that the two players fit together better on offense. Troy Smith is an underrated play action passer and is better at hitting receivers in stride with his superior arm strength. Troy Smith is also more comfortable playing with a quarterback that naturally plays well under center. If Alex can improve in that regard, then it stands to reason that the chemistry will too.
This is not to say that their on field chemistry is bad. That's far from the truth. Perhaps with the new coaching staff in town, the former draft mates can both play well together in the same game. I have confidence that Harbaugh and company will find ways to maximize their abilities and mesh them together to form a competent duo.
Star players remain star players, but for only so long. The fall from immortality happens to the greatest of athletes. However, with teams like the 49ers, who always seem to be in transition, players become accustomed to the losing culture and worst off, become complacent. If the new regime wants to get more results from the team, there could be no more of the coddling that former coaches Nolan and Singletary were clearly guilty of.
Let's take Michael Crabtree for instance. He is a player with immense talent, yet it doesn't really translate to the field. Being as how he was a Singletary draft pick, Singletary tended to give Crabtree leeway in ways that seemed like blatant favoritism. Because of this, Crabtree has not taken the initiative to play as hard as he can because Singletary would keep him on the field, no matter what.
Harbaugh is a whole different animal. He has no ties to the team he inherited. Not even Crabtree. If the former first round pick doesn't come to work, he doesn't get on the field. What better way to show Crabtree and the other under performing players that he means business than by trading the best offensive weapon the team has? It surely wouldn't be a popular move, but it sends a message to Crabtree that no one is safe.
Under no circumstances should Gore be traded for the simple purpose of intimidating players, but it is a reality of the business side of the NFL. If Gore is indeed traded, 49ers fans should not look at it as the end of the world. The unknown is scary, especially in sports, but who's to say that one of the draft choices acquired by a trade couldn't better the team?
Gore has repeatedly expressed how much he wants to remain a 49er for his entire career, but if winning a championship is just as important, then maybe a change of scenery while he still has his legs beneath him to a winning team wouldn't be so bad for both parties.