INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Frank Gore’s Hall of Fame-caliber career will continue elsewhere.
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard confirmed what long has been speculated, that the team’s leading rusher from the last three seasons won’t be re-signed. Gore, who turns 35 in May, will be an unrestricted free agent March 14.
“Hall of Fame back,’’ Ballard said Wednesday during his press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Even just in three years – most of his career was in San Francisco – his three years left an impact on the locker room and people like I don’t know if I’ve seen another player do.’’
Ballard and Gore discussed Gore’s future with the Colts as last season wound down. When the inevitability of 4-12 arrived, it became clear there needed to be a painful parting.
“Frank knows we’re at a point we need to get younger,’’ Ballard said. “And look, I want to give Frank a chance to go see what’s out there and see if he finishes in a place he wants to finish it.
“He’s a Hall of Fame player in my mind, without a question a first-ballot Hall of Fame player. He’s very honest. He likes it when you’re honest with him and we had a nice discussion.’’
Gore quickly emerge as an offensive mainstay after signing a three-year, $12 million contract during the 2015 offseason. He would start all 48 regular-season games and lead the Colts in rushing each season: 967 yards in 2015, 1,025 in ’16 and 961 in ’17.
Gore’s relentless, reliable approach was undeniable. Consider the breakdown of his carries with the Colts: 261 in ’15, 263 in ’16, 260 in ’17.
Ballard pointed to a late-season situation with Gore that exemplified his value to the Colts and the NFL. While logging 36 carries for 130 yards during blizzard-like conditions in a loss at Buffalo in week 14, Gore suffered a broken thumb. Complicating matters was the fact the Colts faced a quick turnaround with a Thursday night home game against Denver.
Ballard approached Gore about the possibility of surgery to insert a pin in his thumb, a procedure that would undoubtedly keep him out of the Broncos game.
Gore’s response was typical Gore: “Hey, man, I’m a football player. I’m playing. I’m playing.’’
“You’d think with what the record was at the time . . . that’s the epitome of Frank Gore,’’ Ballard said.
Coach Frank Reich described Gore as “a legend in my mind.
“Being an offensive guy and being a quarterback and protection person, protection is always of the essence. Frank Gore set the standard on what backs do in protection. He could make the protection calls for the quarterback.
“This guy, as far as I’m concerned, is a living legend.’’
After 13 seasons with the Colts and 49ers, Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards and seventh with 17,698 total yards from scrimmage. He needs 76 yards to move past Hall of Famer Curtis Martin onto the No. 4 rung in career rushing.
Even though Gore realized his time with the Colts was winding down as last season unfolded, he never second-guessed his decision to sign with them. The team was coming off an appearance in the 2014 AFC Championship game and he was one of then-general manager Ryan Grigson’s high-profile free-agent acquisitions.
“Nah, nope,’’ Gore said. “When I got here, they were a game away from the Super Bowl. You’ve got No. 12 (Andrew Luck) under center, you’ve always got a chance to win the game. I don’t regret it at all.’’
No Gore, now what?
With Gore moving on, the Colts’ running backs room includes Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson and Matt Jones. They could use the third overall pick in the April draft to add Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to the mix, or one of their other six picks.
“We think the draft is good,’’ Ballard said. “We kept Matt Jones around for a reason. Matt Jones has got potential. Then we’ve got Ferguson, who can be a mis-match back.
“We think we have three options on the team that are pretty good. We’ll see how the draft and free agency works out.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.