Should Colts Pursue 49ers Running Back Frank Gore?


Earlier this offseason, we noted that one of the “5 Frontline Free Agents” that the Indianapolis Colts should seriously consider signing is longtime San Francisco 49ers running back, Frank Gore, who is set to become a free agent. The 10-year veteran reportedly has interest in becoming the new starting running back for the Colts should he prove unsuccessful at reaching a new multi-year deal with the 49ers.

Dec 28, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) raises his arms as he is introduced before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi

Coming off yet another productive season in which he had 255 carries for 1,106 rushing yards (4.3 ypc) and 4 rushing touchdowns, Gore has been one of the most productive and durable running backs in NFL history. He’s only missed 1 start for the 49ers in the past 4 seasons and has rushed for over 1,000 rushing yards in 8 of his 10 seasons in the NFL.

Not only is he the San Francisco 49ers franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 11,073 career rushing yards, but he ranks 20th in NFL history in career rushing yards. His 64 career rushing touchdowns are also 2nd in San Francisco 49ers franchise history to only Hall of Famer Joe Perry‘s 68 career touchdowns. As far as Frank Gore is concerned, he’s about as beloved in San Francisco as Reggie Wayne is in Indianapolis.

However, Gore will be 32 years old this May, and it begs the question of just how many productive years of football he reasonably has left, playing one of the most physically demanding positions in the NFL. There’s undoubtedly a lot of mileage and wear-and-tear on his tires, but so far, Gore has somehow eluded “Father Time” in his ten highly productive NFL seasons.

But can he keep it up? 

According to, the average running back in the NFL lasts 2.57 years, Gore has nearly quadrupled that amount and already far-exceeded his expected running back shelf life in the process. Set to turn 32 years old in May, there haven’t been many modern day running backs who have had great seasons past even their 30th birthday.

Gore has already had one last season and defied the odds at 31 years old, but can he again at 32, 33, and perhaps even 34 years old?

With the help of SportingCharts, we took the most productive modern-day running backs in NFL history who were 32 years old and compiled a list. What we discovered, was that although it was a fairly limited group, there were still a handful of mostly well known names who enjoyed productive seasons. Given these running backs’ historic seasons, and it looks as though Gore’s 31 year old numbers still compare quite favorably to all of the “still-great” 32 year olds:

Granted, he’ll have to duplicate those kind of numbers again at 32 years old. [This is simply more of a means for comparison purposes]. However, at 31 years old this past season, Gore’s 1,106 rushing yards would’ve been only behind the Miami Dolphins Ricky Williams, who had 1,121 rushing yards in 2009. Gore’s yards per carry average was “just as healthy” last season at 4.34 ypc, and it would be 2nd to only Williams yet again, who rushed for 4.65 ypc in what was a renaissance 2009 NFL season for the former ‘Phin.

Dec 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) carries the ball against the San Diego Chargers at Levi

While Gore’s 4 rushing touchdowns in 2014 did leave a little to be desired, it’s worth noting that he did lose a number of goal line reps to 49ers’ 2nd round pick Carlos Hyde this past season. According to the advanced statistics provided by CBS Sportsline, Gore had 27 attempts for 62 total rushing yards (2.3 ypc) and 3 rushing touchdowns while in the red zone. In contrast, his running back counterpart in Hyde had 19 reps for 60 rushing yards (3.2 ypc) and 4 rushing touchdowns in scoring territory.

While Gore’s 2.3 ypc mark in the red zone doesn’t appear to be that high of a number, it’s worth noting that perhaps the NFL’s best powerback in the Seattle Seahawks Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch didn’t fare much better, averaging 2.5 ypc on 52 carries on his way to an absurd 12 rushing touchdowns in the red zone (may want to re-think that decision Pete Carroll). Gore’s rather low mark is simply more of a byproduct from situational short-yardage running than physical ability or anything else.

All things considered, Gore looks like he should have at least 2-3 productive seasons left as a high-end starting caliber NFL running back. While his numbers should decline given his advancing age and increased wear-and-tear, it looks to me that on a short-term 1 or 2-year deal, he could be an ideal fit to solve the Colts running back woes on a contending football team for the immediate future.

Aug 29, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

However, giving any additional contract years to a 32 year old running back past that point would be a risky proposition indeed. While there have been a number of running backs that have gone on to have productive seasons past their 32 year old campaign, no modern day NFL running back has rushed for more than 1,000 rushing yards after turning 32 years old (although Emitt Smith came awfully close in 2004 at age 35 as an Arizona Cardinal with 937 rushing yards).

If I were a betting man (the accounting major in me makes me risk adverse), I’d say that Gore probably won’t either if history has its fair say.

He would in the near-term; however, provide the Colts with a physical and powerful, in between the tackles running back that they really haven’t had outside of a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw. The only difference is, Gore hasn’t ended up on season-ending injured reserve throughout his NFL career.

The Colts could upgrade with Gore in the short-term at the starting running back position on a 1 to 2-year deal, and with long-term thinking in mind, they could presumably draft a running back in the early to mid rounds of this year’s NFL draft to both groom behind him and help lessen his workload.

Right now, it’s clear that the Colts have major question marks with Trent Richardson‘s future with the team very much in doubt, Ahmad Bradshaw a free agent, and Vick Ballard‘s full recovery uncertain. However, signing Frank Gore would help to answer a lot of them at least in the immediate future if signed to a short-term deal. He could prove to be the last piece to what could be a championship caliber offense, as he’s proven to elude Father Time just like NFL defenders.

Sep 28, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) points up after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Levi Stadium.