INDIANAPOLIS - On Thursday, Jim Harbaugh assessed Frank Gore's 2013 season as "A-plus, plus." Today, general manager Trent Baalke gave Gore the same sterling 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."
Gore is entering the final year of his contract, one that will pay him $6.45 million. The combination of that sum and his age - he turns 31 in May - has prompted speculation that the 49ers will ask him to take a pay cut in 2014.
Baalke declined to talk specifically about that prospect. "The bottom line is we're going to take a look at everything and we're going to do what's best for the organization," he said. "And that's what we're going to do with all of our decisions."
But his lofty praise of Gore, coupled with the fact the 49ers are healthy when it comes to the salary cap, were hints that no request would be made.
"We're in good shape from a cap standpoint," Baalke said. "The decision on that - there's really no decision to be made. We can move forward exactly as is if that's what we choose to do."
It's also hard to find the 49ers' leverage if it came down to a pay-cut request.
Gore certainly is in line to make more than any other 30-something running back. But his performance did not diminish in 2013 when he finished with 1,128 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, and he remains the team's best option as a workhorse runner.
The 49ers also have Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore as options at running back. However, none has been used as a primary back in the NFL. Meanwhile the 49ers coaching staff has preferred to use one runner steadily - Gore - instead of a rotation. Gore, in fact, played more in 2013 than he had since 2006.
"I don't know if it was a surprise," Baalke said of Gore's workload. "Once again, Frank had an awfully good year."
Baalke also said there has been no talk of trading James, a second-round pick in 2012 who has received scant snaps at running back. "No discussion," Baalke said. "LaMichael's a 49er, will continue to be a 49er."
The 49ers general manager also pointed to Gore's production as a reason why James hadn't seen more action.
"Once again, it's a crowded backfield," he said. "And like we addressed earlier, Frank had an awfully good year. When you look at that, you realize you've got Frank, you've got Kendall (Hunter), you've got LaMichael. It's a crowded backfield. At certain times, the coaching staff is looking to get him involved, and for whatever reason in the game itself they weren't able to."
"It's a delicate balance trying to keep all those guys happy when you only have one football," he continued. "(James is) going to continue to grow, he's going to continue to work hard, and he'll get his shot at some point."
-- Matt Barrows