San Francisco 49ers

49ers combine scuttlebutt: Where will Frank Gore land?

NaVorro Bowman, right, tackles former 49ers teammate Frank Gore, now with the Indianapolis Colts, on Sunday in Indianapolis. Bowman led the 49ers with 10 tackles but also spent a lot of time on the sideline.
NaVorro Bowman, right, tackles former 49ers teammate Frank Gore, now with the Indianapolis Colts, on Sunday in Indianapolis. Bowman led the 49ers with 10 tackles but also spent a lot of time on the sideline. The Associated Press

Chris Ballard, the Indianapolis Colts general manager, began his press conference at the scouting combine with a Frank Gore story.

The team played in blizzard conditions in Buffalo -- so much snow you couldn't read the numbers on players' jerseys -- in Week 14 this past season and handed the ball 36 times to Gore. It was the most carries in his 13-year career and he was 34 years old. He finished with 130 yards and also a broken thumb.

The Colts' next game was four days later on Thursday night.

"And they had said, 'You have to do surgery, just put a little pin in and get it right,'" Ballard recalled. "We’re playing Thursday night against Denver and I go to Frank after the game (and he says,) ‘Hey, man, I’m a football player. I’m playing. I’m playing.’ You’d think with what (our) record was at the time . . . that’s the epitome of Frank Gore."

That type of blood-and-guts story is familiar to anyone who worked alongside Gore for 10 seasons in San Francisco and what will make him a legitimate hall-of-fame contender when he finally decides to retire.

That said, the Colts don't plan to have Gore back for a fourth season this year and he will hit the free-agent market next week.

According to those familiar with his thinking, Gore knows he probably has one more NFL season left and wants to make the most of it. He has two criteria: 1.) He wants to play. That is, he wants to go to a team that sees him as a starter or a significant contributor. 2.) He'd rather play for a contender.

Gore initially was eying Green Bay, where his offensive line coach in Indianapolis, Joe Philbin, is now. The Packers, however, appear to be content with the group of runners they have in place. The Bills, against whom Gore played in the snow, have shown interest, but Gore would be playing second fiddle to LeSean McCoy.

What about the 49ers, who have just one reliable runner, Matt Breida, under contract for 2018? There's something to be said for Gore setting an example for the team's young runners and for his ability to protect Jimmy Garoppolo in pass protection.

But he's not a fit from a scheme standpoint and the 49ers are trying to get younger at all positions. Gore turns 35 in May.

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The defensive backs took the field in Indianapolis on Sunday. Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick is expected to be the first one selected in April and likely will be out of the 49ers' reach.

The next cornerback off the board? It could be Ohio State's Denzel Ward or perhaps Iowa's Josh Jackson. Ward (5-10 7/8, 183) measured nearly an inch taller than the height Ohio State had listed him and he ran his 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.32 seconds, which tied for the fastest at this year's combine.

Scouts may have been more interested in Jackson's 40-yard dash time. The one-time wide receiver led the nation with six interceptions last year but had some teams wondering about his speed. He was a little taller and heavier than Ward (6-0 3/8, 196) and ran a respectable 4.49 seconds in the 40.

Whether the 49ers use the No. 9 pick on a cornerback will depend on how heavily they go after the position in free agency. The Chicago Tribune, for example, reported the Bears likely will not place the franchise tag on Kyle Fuller, who is likely to be a person of interest for San Francisco, and there already have been reports the team will make a push for Rams' free-agent cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Meanwhile, 49ers players already have been recruiting Patriots free agent Malcolm Butler.

Which is to say, the team seems to have plenty of options at a position it almost certainly will address in free agency.

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The Eagles aren't going to retain tight end Trey Burton -- he's the guy who threw the surprise touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles in the Super Bowl -- and the NFL Network reported that 16 teams are expected to be interested.

The 49ers are believed to be one of them. The team has two strong in-line tight ends in George Kittle and Garrett Celek.

But Kyle Shanahan could be after a so-called "move" tight end, which would fit Burton's style. At 6-3, 235 pounds, he's on the small side for a tight end. But he knows how to get open and last year caught 23 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns.

Celek led the 49ers in receiving touchdowns last year with four. The 49ers also have 2017 undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini at the position but are likely to move on from Logan Paulsen.

John Lynch, the San Francisco 49ers general manager, talks about the big difference — Jimmy Garoppolo — between this year’s and last year’s combine.

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