When it was reported that the Jets were signing Frank Gore to flesh out their running back room (or, more accurately, their running back series-of-disparate-rooms-in-various-locations-connected-via-zoom-channel), many fans couldn't help but speculate what this could mean.
Would Gore split the load evenly with Le'Veon Bell? Could he get even more carries than Bell? Is Bell destined to be headed out the door via trade? All of these seem unlikely.
While Gore still has something left in the tank, as he showed last year when he rushed for 109 yards in a game against one of the league's better defenses in New England, he is clearly past his prime and winding down in terms of his overall usage and production.
Gore will be 37 when the 2020 regular season (hopefully) gets underway. This is almost unprecedented for an NFL running back, especially in the modern era, so it's difficult to put any kind of projection on what he might have left.
Yes, the late career success of the likes of Jerry Rice and Tom Brady might give us some hope that Gore can still be surprisingly productive as he nears his 40th birthday, but they're not running backs and for every Rice and Brady there are many more players whose production fell off a cliff.
37 is the same age Derrick Mason was when the Jets signed him - and he had caught 60 passes in the previous season. We all know what happened to him. Even Emmitt Smith, who hung on for what seemed like several years after he had stopped being elite just so he could break the all-time rushing record, only lasted to 35.
In the modern game, only Marcus Allen played into the year of his 37th birthday. He wasn't bad, but ended up with 505 yards and was a non-factor in the passing game. He didn't post a 100-yard game all year.
For the Jets, that might not represent a bad return from the player expected to be the number two back. Gore ended up with 599 rushing yards last season, although his average of 3.6 was a full half-yard lower than Allen managed in his last season, despite the fact he was running behind a solid line. That 3.6 yards per carry was a career low. Gore - who averaged over 50 catches per season from 2006 to 2010 - was also a non-factor in the passing game.
Could Gore bounce back if they continue to reduce his workload, though? This is where the comparison with LaDainian Tomlinson comes in.
When the Jets signed Tomlinson after the 2009 season, he was considered washed-up by some, having averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry in 2009. He was also only 30 at the time.
The Jets didn't really reduce Tomlinson's workload in 2010, although he was splitting reps with Shonn Greene. Tomlinson only had four fewer carries than he had in 2009 but his average shot up to 4.2 yards per carry and his pass catching production went up from 20 catches to 52. He contributed well in the playoffs too, with three touchdowns. Of course, the key to this was the fact that he was running behind an excellent offensive line.
In 2011, Tomlinson's workload dropped off significantly. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry, which was a drop-off from 2010, but still more than his last year in San Diego. The pass catching production remained high though, as he had 42 catches. He only ended up with 280 rushing yards, but Greene rushed for over a thousand.
If the Gore move works out, it might realistically fall somewhere between Tomlinson's two seasons. The difference is that Gore will take over some of the ball carrying workload from Bell, whereas Tomlinson took over the pass catching workload from Greene. However, in terms of total production, if Gore can spell Bell, keep him fresh and generate some production as a reserve this will bode well for Bell to have a productive year.
What are your expectations for Gore in 2020?