There's been a lot written about San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore lately, even though no one has heard directly from Gore since the end of the season. Multiple sources, according to CSN Bay Area, insist the fracture in Gore's right hip has completely healed and that he's scheduled to resume running in the next couple of weeks.
That's good news to the 49ers, but they would be wise to approach things cautiously when it comes to Gore. Some information about his recovery is coming from his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and if there's one thing we've learned about agents, it's that they'll say anything that puts a favorable light on their clients.
That's not to say Rosenhaus is fibbing about Gore. But no one will know for sure until training camp, when Gore puts on pads and absorbs a few hits from teammates. Which brings up the question: Should the 49ers trade him now rather than take the risk he won't be fully recovered?
Our opinion: Probably not. First of all, there's not likely to be much of a market for a running back, even one as good as Gore, who's coming off an injury. Second, Gore would have to pass a physical, and there's no guarantee he would be cleared to play.
Although he still seems to have plenty left to offer, a team couldn't be sure how much more wear and tear Gore can take. He'll be 28 years old in four months, and he's touched the ball quite a bit in his career (1,371 rushes, 270 receptions). His insistence on not being taken out of games on certain downs could ultimately shorten his career.
Another thing: If Gore is healthy, he would be a valuable piece in coach Jim Harbaugh's West Coast offense. He can catch the ball and he's a powerful inside runner, the kind Harbaugh likes.
Gore still has one more year left on his contract at $4.9 million, which is certainly an affordable salary for the 49ers. If the labor dispute carries into the summer between owner and players, dealing Gore would leave the team without a dependable runner, and it would have to scramble to find someone if it didn't find one in the draft.
That means it wouldn't make sense to trade Gore. More likely, the Niners will hope he recovers fully this summer. In fact, they'll keep their fingers crossed that he does.
THE ALEX QUESTION: We've written a few times about the future of Alex Smith, who will be a free agent in March and is likely headed elsewhere. Team president Jed York said the 49ers haven't closed the door on the quarterback, and now Harbaugh seems to feel similarly.
In an interview with KHTK radio in Sacramento last week, Harbaugh said, "I've been studying Alex Smith and watching him. And I believe that Alex Smith can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League. I'm excited to work with him, get to know him ..."
Although 49ers fans aren't likely to warm up to Harbaugh's assessment, it's pretty clear the team is leaving its options open. But after the way Smith was booed and jeered this season – and frankly, though much of his career in San Francisco -- we don't see him returning.
Smith is going to have at least a few suitors, and he'll probably go somewhere where he has a chance to compete for a starting job.