Earlier today Matt Barrows tweeted that 49ers running back Frank Gore is ahead of schedule in rehabbing his broken hip. Apparently he resumed running two weeks ago and no ill effects of the injury are expected in 2011 (thanks to face49er for the first mention of this). It's certainly a big plus that Gore will be OK heading into next season. No matter who comes in as the next quarterback, Frank Gore will be a pivotal part of the 49ers offense in 2011.
If Jim Harbaugh is successful in implementing a west coast style of offense, the running back is essential. In the '80s, Roger Craig was as important as anybody else in both rushing and the short passing game. Gore has been a key member of the offense during his time in San Francisco in part because of Alex Smith's Captain Checkdown moniker. Gore has been among the team leaders in receptions virtually every season of his 49ers career.
The team has made fairly tepid attempts to find a solid backup for Gore, but has been rather unsuccessful. They brought in Brian Westbrook this past year but struggled figuring out how to use him until Gore went down. They drafted Anthony Dixon last year and Glen Coffee the year before. Coffee flamed out and retired, while Dixon struggled a bit but showed some solid signs at times. Either way, the 49ers do not have any sort of long term replacement option for when Gore's time in SF is finished.
This brings me to my second point. Frank Gore is a free agent after the coming season. At this point he would enter 2012 NFL free agency as a completely unrestricted free agent. The past few offseasons the 49ers have done a good job inking some of their key young talent, including Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis, to long term deals. Teams have been discussing long-term deals with their key players even as labor uncertainty swirls and I wonder if the 49ers have even broached the topic of a new deal with Gore.
He turns 28 in May, but given his running style and injury history, it's a tough call how his age factors into this. He's coming off a busted hip and has dealt with a variety of nagging injuries throughout his 49ers career. The hip injury is the first truly major in-season injury for him since college, but it's something the 49ers can reasonably be expected to factor into any contract extension. I just tweeted Barrows to see if he knows whether the team has begun any sort of discussion. If they don't get a deal done and a lockout begins they'd be forced to table the issue indefinitely. They could get a deal done once the season begins but it seems like they do most of their long term deals during the offseason.
Will the team get Frank Gore locked up beyond 2011? In 2007 he received a four year extension to his rookie that signed him through this season. It came immediately after his franchise record 2006 season but it was an incredibly reasonable deal. Gore got a $4.165 million option bonus and in 2011 he'll receive a total of $4.9 million ($2.9 million base, $2 million roster bonus). Considering he's represented by Drew Rosenhaus, that was a pretty sweet deal.
Now that he's due for another contract, how many years would you be willing to give him? A new labor deal could affect a deal but I'd imagine the 49ers would be looking at no more than a four year extension, if even that long.