To this point, we've already covered most of the big San Francisco 49ers set to hit unrestricted free agency. We've talked about Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati and Perrish Cox, and many of the other 15 players who will be unrestricted. But there is one more big name we haven't touched on yet ... running back Frank Gore.
Of course, we've talked about him a little bit here and there, and recently Fooch examined which teams could be interested in signing Gore. But at some point we have to come out and make some predictions as to what's going to happen with the guy who has been a favorite of mine since the day he was drafted.
It's still weird to be in this place though ... I've been rebuking people who have talked about trading Gore for the past several offseasons, but now he could actually be leaving in free agency.
Gore has played in 148 games for the 49ers, with 2,442 carries for 11,073 yards (a solid 4.5 yards per carry) and 64 touchdowns. He's, as far as I'm concerned, the best running back in 49ers history and is coming off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Gore carried the ball 255 times for 1,106 yards and four touchdowns last year.
Unlike past seasons, Gore looked his best down the stretch, putting up several good games nearer the end of the season. Maybe he did it because he felt like he was leaving the 49ers soon, or more likely, Gore always gives it 100 percent on the field and to suggest that an increase in effort had anything to do with it is kind of ridiculous.
He's just good, and at 31 years old we keep expecting him to slow down and hit that wall, and that hasn't really happened to any large extent. It's going to at some point, but for now, he remains a productive running back. The 49ers likely feel like they have his replacement in Carlos Hyde, however, and that complicates things.
Gore isn't going to want to be a backup, and the 49ers feel like Hyde is the future. Gore has enough left in the tank to want to continue playing, I think, but there's also a relatively strong market for running backs. It's an interesting situation.
Why he will return
Gore wants to remain in San Francisco, more than anything. He loves this team, these fans and his teammates, and he's got a routine. Why up and move everything to play for another team, unless said team offers him a good deal of money. The 49ers will obviously have plenty of carries to give him, and will need to bring in another running back anyway. Bringing back Gore means they don't need to worry about the position for one more season.
Why he will depart
Perhaps Gore doesn't think he'll get enough carries next season. He's never liked to share the ball and he's his own biggest fan, though not in a diva way. There's bound to be interest from other teams, even if it is a strong free agent class. I can definitely see a team offering Gore a two-year deal, which is probably more than the 49ers can offer him. On top of all that, there's also the chance that Gore would rather simply retire than take whatever deal the 49ers have for him.
Odds of returning
I think the odds are pretty solid that Gore comes back. The 49ers are motivated, Gore is motivated and ultimately, I see it happening. This here pessimist is going to go with a 70 percent chance that Gore is brought back for at least another season in 2015-16. I also imagine he'll be listed as the starter, but he'll give up plenty to Hyde this year.