49ers salary cap breakdown: Running Backs

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers have a big salary question mark at running back as Frank Gore is looking at a sizable cap hit. We break down what the position looks like against the 49ers salary cap.

We're back for another article in our series on the San Francisco 49ers salary cap situation. Earlier this week, we took a look at the quarterback position. The 49ers have a small percentage of their cap dollars invested in the position. The team will face a salary cap between $126.3 million and $128 million, and for now they only have $2.2 million spent on the quarterback position. That will change with the addition of a back-up option, but potentially even more so if the 49ers can come to terms on an extension with Colin Kaepernick.

Today, we move on to the running back position. The 49ers had a solid amount of depth in 2013, even with Marcus Lattimore sidelined for the season. As they move toward 2014, they are likely going to lose Anthony Dixon, but Lattimore returns from a season on the NFI list. With Jewel Hampton also competing for an opportunity, this group has some serious depth.

And yet, there is one big question mark with regard to 2014 salaries: Frank Gore.

2014

Player Years Cap Figure Base Salary Prorated SB Roster Bonus Workout Bonus Dead Money
Frank Gore 9 $6,450,000 $3,300,000 $0 $2,750,000 $400,000 $0
Kendall Hunter 3 $754,805 $645,000 $109,805 $0 $0 $0
LaMichael James 2 $905,154 $641,718 $213,436 $0 $50,000 $0
Marcus Lattimore 1 $570,146 $495,000 $75,146 $0 $0 $0
Jewel Hampton 2 $496,668 $495,000 $0 $0 $0 $1,668
TOTAL $9,176,773 $5,576,718 $398,387 $2,750,000 $450,000 $1,668

2013

Player Years Cap Figure Base Salary Prorated SB Roster Bonus Workout Bonus Dead Money
Frank Gore 2 $6,450,000 $3,300,000 $0 $2,750,000 $400,000 $0
Kendall Hunter 3 $664,805 $555,000 $109,805 $0 $0 $0
LaMichael James 1 $754,295 $490,859 $213,436 $0 $50,000 $0
Anthony Dixon 3 $660,150 $630,000 $30,150 $0 $0 $0
Marcus Lattimore R $438,856 $363,710 $75,146 $0 $0 $0
Jewel Hampton 2 $103,666 $102,000 $0 $0 $0 $1,666
TOTAL $9,071,772 $5,441,569 $428,537 $2,750,000 $450,000 $1,666

Frank Gore is signed through the 2014 season, and is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. His $6.45 million cap hit (base salary and bonuses) might be deserved for his past performance, but it seems unlikely that he enters the 2014 season with that cap hit. He averaged a career low 4.1 yards per carry. He had some big runs, and remained a focus of the offense, but at some point the team will need to make a transition.

There are four basic options for Frank Gore's contract:

1. No change - This would involve simply playing out his final year, with both sides parting ways after 2014, and potentially seeing Marcus Lattimore take over the starting job in 2015.

2. Release him - None of the money is guaranteed. This option would only seem possible if the two sides simply could not come up with a reasonable middle ground. Gore has taken some fairly team-friendly contracts during his time, so either he'll continue that trend, or he and Drew Rosenhaus might fight it. I expect the former, but you never know what will happen when push comes to shove.

3. Pay cut - This seems unlikely. Teams have asked players to take pay cuts before, but a straight pay cut seems unlikely. I think Frank Gore could land a two or three year deal, so if the 49ers looked for a straight pay cut with no extension, I think we would end up seeing a release.

4. Contract extension - The 49ers have a couple of options depending on what Gore is looking for as well. They could turn the $6.45 million into a signing bonus for a two or three year deal with veteran minimum base salaries and roster bonuses. This is possible as well, but it also depends on what the team expects out of Marcus Lattimore. If they think he could be ready to take sole control of the starting running back job by 2015, a short two-year extension could do the trick.

I think the contract extension is most likely, but without knowing the expectations for Lattimore, it's hard to tell what the team will do specifically. If the 49ers release Carlos Rogers, the first option is not entirely out of the picture. I think they end up giving Gore an extension, in part because Lattimore remains a big question mark. He could fully recover and return to the form that had him projected as a first round draft picks prior to last season. Or, he could be in the small group of knee injury patients that doesn't get it all back.

How do you see Frank Gore's contract working out for 2014, and potentially beyond? I've included a poll just to see how people see this playing out.

Beyond Gore though, there are still some other question marks at the position. Anthony Dixon could still return, but personally I think he ends up getting a deal to be a greater part of a committee approach somewhere else. If Dixon does not return, the 49ers conceivably have four running backs competing for time. Jewel Hampton will be in the mix in training camp, but at this point, Gore, Hunter, James and Lattimore all are ahead of him on the depth chart. Does the team try and deal away one of Hunter or James to clear up some space and maybe get a late round draft pick? Or do they roll the dice with all four and just play it out to see who steps up?

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