The last two games of the 2014 season, which marked the end of a disappointing campaign for a team that had grown accustomed to double-digit wins and playoff excitement, presented the final opportunities to say goodbye, and thanks, to Frank Gore.
Every 49ers fan, at least the ones who were being honest with themselves, knew this day was coming. Gore is leaving the team that drafted him 10 years ago. He will sign with the Eagles: a three-year deal reportedly worth $7.5 million guaranteed over the first two seasons ($5 million per year, but average annual value rarely matters with veteran deals).
The 49ers said all the right things about wanting him back, but not at that price.
This wasn’t a decision based on age, otherwise they wouldn’t have signed 33-year-old Darnell Dockett. No, this is a team that makes decisions with an eye toward two bottom lines: money and winning. They no longer feel that Gore — who turns 32 in May — is a fit. Keeping Gore would mean keeping Carlos Hyde’s workload below 10 carries per game. Gore’s mixture of heart, production and selflessness (witness the way he throws his body around in pass protection) will never be forgotten, but the 49ers might believe they need a game-breaking talent, particularly one who Seattle hasn’t figured out.
No one got louder ovations during the first season at Levi’s Stadium than Gore, who capped his 49ers career with two huge statistical games: 302 yards on 51 carries combined. Unfortunately, those great performances came in games that didn’t matter, after Gore rushed for just 57 yards on 21 carries in two games against the Seahawks over the previous three weeks. He cried as he left the field after the win over Arizona, because he knew. If the 49ers were looking to extend Gore, they would’ve made an offer similar to what the Eagles put forth, sooner.
We’ll see what this decision costs the 49ers on an emotional level. Joe Staley probably isn’t extremely pleased, but he’s getting used to such things. Alex Smith is one of his best friends. He’ll probably be without his partner on the left side of the line, too.
As far as the fans, this one is going to sting. The team posted the tweet below around the time that the Gore news was breaking. It went up at 2:00 pm exactly, so there’s a good chance it was scheduled hours/days beforehand.
The 49ers deleted the tweet a while later. It’s just not the time. Garrison Hearst was a guy who had some 1,000-yard seasons. Gore was touchdowns, blocks, patience, passion, blood, sweat, tears, 49ers.
Many fans will understand the money thing. Gore’s getting a lot of guaranteed cash from a team that seems to be pinning its hopes on two running backs over 30 (Darren Sproles is 31). Some fans thought that with the team looking so unsettled, bringing Gore back would equate to throwing the fans a bone. That’s not how this league works. PR-driven signings are rarely successful, anyway.
But for those who don’t spend all day reading mock drafts and salary cap websites, today is both sad and confusing. My wife wasn’t happy when I broke the news to her today. In exchange for some promotional work I did a couple years back, I received a set of gift cards good for NFL merchandise. She wanted her first jersey, and there was only one player on her list: Frank Gore. Fans will still wear Gore jerseys for several years to come, and the team will probably retire No. 21. Maybe, after his time in Philly, he’ll come back for a one-day ceremonial retirement with the 49ers. In the meantime, the West Coast will gain thousands of Eagles fans if the 49ers miss the playoffs and Chip Kelly’s squad makes it to January.