Marshall Faulk is back with another question, and given what might be just around the corner for a long-time member of the San Francisco 49ers, it is kind of fitting. This week, Marshall is asking us which player leaves everything on the field. You can make arguments about several players providing heart for the 49ers, but there is one guy all 49ers will agree is as much the soul of this team as anybody else.
Justin Smith and Anquan Boldin have provided plenty of heart on both sides of the ball, but it is hard to argue against Frank Gore as "the guy" for this franchise. Gore is a "home grown" 49er, having joined the team as a third round draft pick in 2005. He entered the league with significant question marks about his knees (and his shoulders after his rookie season), and he has only gone on to become the franchise's all-time leading rusher. If he retired today, he probably would not get in the Hall of Fame, but he has managed to at least get himself into the discussion.
Throughout all the turmoil the last decade, Frank Gore has been a constant. Others have joined and become important pieces of the fabric of this franchise, but Gore has chugged along. The 49ers have had vocal players, but Gore strikes me as representative of the kind of player leadership the 49ers have had. The leaders will talk to the team but it is more about their actions, and the leadership is an internal thing, not something that they need the whole world to see. There are a lot of players in sports that want to make sure everybody knows they're a big leader. Then there are players that are fine leading in a more low key manner. Frank Gore (and Justin Smith and Patrick Willis) has been that kind of leader for this team.
Gore spoke with the media on Thursday, and as we have seen for much of this season, he would appear to be at peace with the knowledge that his 49ers tenure might be coming to an end.
#49ers Frank Gore on future: "If they watch the film, I think I have a good shot to be one of the top guys in free agency."— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 18, 2014
More Gore: "If I’m not back, at least they’ll know, Frank Gore, this guy always played his heart out." #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 18, 2014
Asked #49ers Frank Gore if he’s had low point in ’14: "Nah. I won’t ever let it get there because I’m still doing something I love to do."— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 18, 2014
It is painful to watch as it happens, but it is also the way the business operates. It will sting, and it will look weird to see Frank Gore in another uniform in 2015. It is certainly still possible we see Gore back in 2015, but my guess is the 49ers move on to Carlos Hyde full time. Hyde has had an up and down rookie year, but we have seen some serious skills. The kind of stuff that could prove to make him a strong feature back. The team will also welcome back Kendall Hunter, but I have to think they either add a veteran depth guy, or draft a running back later in the draft.