Frank Gore this week signed a three-year contract extension that’s worth a maximum of $21 million — this in a climate where netting a new deal of any sort for a 29-year-old running back is difficult at best. But the details of Gore’s pact with the 49ers point out just how stark the market forces are for NFL running backs as years and injuries mount.
Getting big money for a third time (this is Gore’s third contract; he last renegotiated in 2007) is nearly impossible, as the game becomes more pass-oriented, as running backs become more interchangeable and as elite playmakers at other positions continue to grab increasingly high shares of salary-cap space.
Gore has been productive throughout his career. He had hoped to get somewhere in the neighborhood of the $21 million guaranteed deal DeAngelo Williams received from the Panthers this offseason. But Williams, younger and on his second contract, isn’t comparable in this case, and Gore’s deal bears that out.
Gore’s deal includes injury guarantees but not skill guarantees, giving the 49ers great flexibility from year to year. And he didn’t receive any new upfront money in 2011, according to sources. The 49ers could in fact release him based on diminishing production at various times during this season — or the later campaigns covered under the three-year extension — and owe him no guaranteed money.
Gore has base salaries of $2 million in 2012 and $3.3 million in 2013 and again in 2014. The 2012 and 2013 salaries are guaranteed for injury but not skill. Gore could receive a maximum of $6 million in 2012 if he achieves various roster bonuses (including $1 million at the start of the new league year and workout bonuses but, again, if he is released prior to those points for skill, none of that is guaranteed).
Gore also has roster bonuses in 2013 and 2014 and workout and performance bonuses (based on achieving the lofty figure of 1,625 combined rushing and receiving yards), but as a 29-year-old running back facing injury concerns, he didn’t receive much full long-term security from this deal.
The 49ers could get out of the contract relatively easily each year with no real cap ramifications, and the totals of this deal reflect the realities for backs in this league as they approach age 30. The lack of full guarantees point to that.
From Gore’s standpoint, he gets to stay with the only team he has played for and finish his career as a 49er. He remains where he can be productive and perform as a featured back, which is no longer the norm with many teams.
In the short term, Gore could receive $6 million in 2012, at age 30, including bonuses, which actually would be more take-home money then he accrues in 2011. And if he stays productive and hits incentives, he could increase those figures in the final two years of the deal.