SANTA CLARA -- Running back Frank Gore, for the first time in his 10-year career, has a contract that is set to expire after his next game.
So is it possible fans who come to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday will be watching Gore for the final time in a 49ers uniform?
“We sure hope not,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke told CSNBayArea.com on Tuesday in his office overlooking the team’s practice field.
Baalke informed Gore during a talk in the weight room Monday that the 49ers want Gore back for his 11th season, Baalke said. The 49ers have yet to make a formal contract offer to Gore, who is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
“He understands what he means to this organization,” Baalke said. “He would certainly like to be back, and we would certainly like to have him back. Now, whether we can make that a reality or not, time will tell.”
The 49ers invested a second-round pick this year in running back Carlos Hyde. The team also recently agreed to an extension with Kendall Hunter, who missed this season with a knee injury. Gore has earned $6.45 million in each of the past two seasons. Baalke declined to reveal any specifics of the contract the 49ers are expected to offer, but it appears likely Gore would have to accept a reduction in salary next season to remain with the 49ers.
“You have to look at the situation,” Baalke said. “Frank is going to want to discuss his role, and what that role is going to be moving forward. What is the contract itself going to look like? We can both want each other’s company, but to make that happen, there are hurdles that are going to have to be crossed.
“He knows we are interested. We know he is interested. And we’re going to see if we can come together at some point. Now isn’t the time. I know what’s on Frank’s mind, and that’s finishing this season with a ‘W,’ and potentially get that 1,000-yard barrier that he covets -- his eighth 1,000-yard season. And that, in and of itself, is yeoman’s work.”
Gore, the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, enters Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals just 38 yards shy of his eighth 1,000-yard season since arriving as a third-round draft pick in 2005. He rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers – his best game since the 2009 season.
Gore has proved to Baalke this season that he is capable of playing at a high level for at least another season. Gore turns 32 in May.
“I think Saturday showed a lot of people why,” Baalke said. “He’s still a good football player, and he’s certainly meant a lot to this organization both on and off the field.
“In this business, you’re always trying to prove you have another year, regardless of what stage you’re in as far as your career goes. You’re always proving yourself. And, really, the guys who understand that are the guys who have long careers because that’s the attitude they bring to the offseason workouts, the in-season preparation and the game itself.”
Baalke said Gore has continued value to the 49ers because he still is an elite back in a couple of different areas, including his ability in pass-protection.
“Just as all players get up there in age, they can’t do some of the same things that they were able to do when they were younger, but they find ways to compensate,” Baalke said. “Frank is still one of the best inside runners, in terms of finding creases and setting up his blocks, as there is in the National Football League. He’s always been a tremendously instinctive football player, and he hasn’t lost that.
“He offers a unique skill set, in terms of the run game in the National Football League. He understands how to find yards between the tackles. He gets a lot of hidden yardage, makes a lot of plays that aren’t necessarily blocked to perfection but, yet, he’s able to find that crease. Good running backs make offensive lines look better. And when you have a really good offensive line and a really good running back, really good things happen.”