The franchise's all-time leading rusher spent 10 years in San Francisco and recorded eight 1,000-yard seasons. Retire a niner
Frank Gore's place in San Francisco 49ers lore will endure long after the running back's NFL career is over. The franchise's all-time leader rusher may be headed to Indianapolis, but his lasting legacy will be in red and gold.
As Gore put it following his final game with the 49ers last December, "I cried today because when I got here, I was 21. You know, 10 years and I've never been in this situation. I've always been under contract and knowing it might be my last game here, it was tough. It was tough because this is all I knew. Great fans, great organization."
The time will come to reflect on Gore's storied and likely Hall of Fame career, but for now, we look ahead to how the 49ers will move forward into 2015 without the eight-time 1,000-yard rusher.
As a rookie last season, Pierre Garçon showed immense potential as a physical, downhill 'back. The 49ers also have Kendall Hunter coming back from injury and an intriguing prospect in former rugby league star Jarryd Hayne. (Kendall Gaskins is on the roster as well, although he finished the 2014 season on the practice squad.)
Of course, the team could look outside of the organization in free agency or the draft to supplement its depth.
Below is a breakdown of the 49ers options following Gore's departure.
The team's second-round pick in 2014, Hyde carried the ball 83 times for 333 yards in his rookie campaign. He tied Gore for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with four, including one in his NFL debut against Dallas.
Hyde's biggest contribution came in Week 11 versus Washington, when he scored the game-winning touchdown from four yards out with three minutes remaining in the game. His season came to an abrupt end, however, when he suffered an ankle injury in Seattle and missed the final two games of the year.
Not one to shy away from contact, Hyde's ability to break tackles led him to a 4.0 yards per carry average, which ranked fifth among rookie running backs.
When asked at the conclusion of the season if he could fill Gore's shoes, Hyde sounded up to the challenge.
"I think I'm ready for that role if Frank leaves," Hyde said. "No disrespect to Frank, but even if he comes back, I'm going to try to push Frank to get that role.
"I'm going to try to get in the best shape that I can to try to become a better running back."
The 49ers are so confident in Hunter's ability that they signed him to a one-year contract extension last November while he was still in the early stages of ACL rehab. Hunter hurt his knee at the beginning of training camp and was lost for the season.
The ACL wasn't his first major injury, however. Hunter suffered an Achilles' tear in 2012 and worked his way back to play in all 16 games in 2013. That year, Hunter carried the ball 78 times for 358 yards and three touchdowns.
The 49ers hope the 26-year-old running back can make a similar comeback in 2015, possibly taking on an even bigger role in the offense.
At 5-foot-7, 199 pounds, Hunter is considerably smaller and more compact than Hyde. So it seems like a natural fit for Hunter to complement Hyde's bruising style with a change of pace.
Although he's an unproven commodity, Hayne still comes with plenty of excitement. The "LeBron James" of rugby league, Hayne reportedly turned down millions to chase his NFL dreams.
He was a two-time NRL player of the year in Australia and tied for the scoring lead during the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
During a December pro day for NFL teams, Hayne ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, which would have been the fifth-fastest time among running backs at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.
Hayne also figures to garner reps in the return game, the phase of football most similar to his position in rugby league.
Reggie Bush, a free agent running back who spent last season with the Detroit Lions, told Yahoo! Sports that he believes Hayne can succeed in the NFL.
"I think he'd do pretty well actually," Bush said. "Because he's quick, he's elusive, he's powerful, he's fast, he has great vision and those are all the things you need to play running back in the NFL."
From NFL.com's full list, some of the top running back free agents are...
Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
Chris Johnson, New York Jets
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (must void contract)
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
NFL.com's "Around the NFL" crew has named their top 25 free agents of 2015. Free agency officially begins on March 10.
According to NFL.com, the top running back prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft are...
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Tevin Coleman, Indiana
Jay Ajayi, Boise St.
Duke Johnson, Miami
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
David Johnson, Northern Iowa
Jeremy Langford, Michigan St.