PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' decision to sign running back Frank Gore -- as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Adam Caplan -- appears inconsistent with their decision to trade LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills last week.
If the rationale for trading McCoy was that he is bound to decline after turning 27 this summer, it’s hard to explain the Gore deal. Gore is 31 and will turn 32 in May. If McCoy is headed downhill at age 26, then Gore is already nearing the bottom.
Gore has rushed nearly 4,500 times for more than 11,000 yards in his 10-year NFL career. He has topped 1,000 yards rushing in each of the past four seasons and in eight of the past nine. Looked at one way, that’s admirable consistency. Looked at another, that’s a lot of tread worn off the tires.
There are, as always, other factors to consider in NFL personnel decisions. Gore will make about $7.5 million over the next two years of his contract with the Eagles. McCoy was due to earn $9.75 million just for 2015, while counting for $11.95 million against the Eagles’ salary cap.
Gore will be a much cheaper alternative. The question is whether he can deliver the same production as McCoy.
In 2014, Gore did. He carried the ball 255 times for 1,106 yards; McCoy carried it 312 times for 1,319 yards. Gore ran for four touchdowns; McCoy ran for five. Gore averaged 4.3 yards per carry; McCoy averaged 4.2.
Those are remarkably similar numbers, allowing for the fewer times Gore carried the ball. But McCoy managed that production in a year when his offensive line was wrecked by injuries. In 2013, when the line was healthy, McCoy ran for 1,607 yards on 314 carries. That’s a 5.1 yard average -- markedly better than either Gore or McCoy managed in 2014.
Gore hasn’t averaged more than 5 yards per carry since 2006. His career average is 4.5 yards per carry.
But Gore is still an effective NFL runner. He proved that against the Eagles back in September. Gore carried the ball 24 times for 119 yards and went 55 yards for a touchdown on a short pass from Colin Kaepernick. His rushing performance was the best against the Eagles in Chip Kelly’s two seasons as head coach.
It remains to be seen what other moves Kelly has in mind. He could look to add a running back in the draft. That would give him a group of backs -- Gore, the rookie, Chris Polk and Darren Sproles -- to share the workload. That was Kelly’s style at Oregon, where he used a committee approach to the running back position.
Sproles will also be 32 when the season starts. According to ESPN Stats and Information, only four running backs aged 32 or older got carries in the NFL the past season. The only one with more than 25 carries was Buffalo's Fred Jackson, who carried the ball 141 times for 525 yards. That’s a 3.7-yard average. Jackson was 33 the past season.
In his five seasons since turning 27, Gore has rushed for 5,512 yards. That is the kind of performer the Eagles are getting in Gore. Of course, it’s also the kind of future production they possibly gave up with McCoy.
On the other hand, Gore’s running style is a good fit for Kelly’s offense. Gore is more of a direct runner, one who hits a hole quickly and takes off. McCoy often moves laterally, looking for the best running lane. He frequently gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage, though he also turns that approach into some big gains.
In 2014, Gore was much more effective when running the ball out of the shotgun formation. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Gore averaged 5.0 yards per carry when running out of the shotgun, while he averaged 4.2 yards when the quarterback lined up under center.
The Eagles led the NFL in using the shotgun last year. They lined up in shotgun formations a league-high 950 times. Given that Gore is also very effective running behind zone blocking, he should be very comfortable in Kelly’s offense.