Frank Gore is scheduled to earn far more than any other 30-something NFL running back in 2014, but it doesn’t sound as if the 49ers will ask their longtime workhorse to take a pay cut.
“We’re in good shape from the (salary) cap standpoint, so the decision on that – there’s really no decision to be made,” general manager Trent Baalke said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. “We can move forward exactly as is, if that’s what we choose to do.”
Gore will turn 31 in May, and his $6.45 million salary is nearly double any other running back 30 years or older. That has led to speculation the 49ers could ask Gore to reduce his salary, which they have done in recent years with older players like center Jonathan Goodwin and outside linebacker Parys Haralson.
Like coach Jim Harbaugh on Thursday, Baalke heaped praise on Gore, who was ninth in the league in 2013 with 1,128 rushing yards and scored nine touchdowns. And both gave Gore the same grade.
“A-plus-plus. I mean, how can you argue with the statistics?” Baalke said. “And he brings so much more to the team; I think we all know that. Frank’s an extremely passionate guy, loves the game of football, he loves the organization. He’s everything we’re looking for from a DNA standpoint, and he’s an awfully good football player and he’s a great teammate.”
As Baalke pointed out, the 49ers don’t need to ask Gore to reduce his salary. The salary cap this year is expected to increase to $130 million, and the 49ers are more than $10 million below it. They could save more by asking starting cornerback Carlos Rogers – scheduled to count a team-high $8.1 million against the cap – to reduce his salary. If Rogers refuses, he could be cut.
It’s also difficult to see the leverage the 49ers would have in asking Gore to slash his salary. Gore is entering the final year of his contract in what may be the swan song to his 49ers career. He is the franchise’s career rushing leader and has been perhaps the 49ers’ best player in the last decade.
While the 49ers have a full stable of running backs, only Gore has proven to be the type of workhorse the coaches prefer.
Marcus Lattimore is an option for the future, but when the 49ers’ offseason program begins in April, it will be only 18 months since the former South Carolina standout’s knee injury that wiped out his rookie season.
Another backup, Kendall Hunter, runs with power and could be a lead tailback. But he and another option, LaMichael James, are on the small side.
Baalke also quashed speculation they could trade James, who played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and has been lightly used in the 49ers’ offense the last two seasons.
James carried the ball 13 times for 59 yards in 13 regular- and postseason games for San Francisco last season, and his primary role has been as a return man.
“No discussion,” Baalke said of trade talks. “LaMichael is a 49er. He’ll continue to be a 49er.”
Culliver on track – Baalke said cornerback Chris Culliver, who tore his ACL early in training camp last season, is on track for a full recovery.
“He looks real good,” Baalke said. “And he’s working awfully hard. He’s at the facility every day and doing extra, and really doing a nice job. He’s matured a lot, both on the field and off the field, and it’s fun to watch.”
The 49ers have several questions at cornerback. In addition to Rogers, Tarell Brown, Perrish Cox and Eric Wright are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.
Tramaine Brock is earmarked to start at one spot. Culliver, the team’s No. 3 cornerback in 2011 and 2012, currently is the favorite to play on the other side.
Et cetera – Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was confident he’d measure 5-foot-10 at the combine, came in at just a shade under at 5-93/4. The 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner from Stockton is expected to be one of the fastest players at the combine. He met with the 49ers on Friday.