INDIANAPOLIS —Frank Gore will be back in 2018 for a 14th NFL season.
Whether or not he's back with the Indianapolis Colts, however, remains a point of emphasis for the team and the future Hall of Fame running back to hash out over the next couple months.
Gore this week officially expressed his intentions to return for another season, meaning he'll be 35 years old by the time Week 1 rolls around. And while the University of Miami product has been a featured back throughout his entire career — Sunday's 2017 season finale against the Houston Texans will be his 107th consecutive start — he said he's more than willing to accept whatever future role is thrown his way.
He just wants to win.
"Whatever role they want me to play — if it's a starter or coming in to help whatever back — I want to do it," Gore said. "But I want to be part of a team; I just don't want to be on the team, I want to help the team."
Gore signed with the Colts in 2015 after 10 illustrious seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, where he left as the franchise's all-time leading rusher (11,073 yards), and played on some talented teams, one of which narrowly lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII.
What Gore saw in the Colts was a franchise on the cusp of greatness; in 2014, led by a young, extremely talented quarterback in Andrew Luck, Indianapolis advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game. Gore believed, and the Colts believed, he could be paired with Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to be the missing offensive piece needed to get them over the hump.
But in 2015, Luck would only play in seven games, and the Colts ended up using five different quarterbacks to finish with an 8-8 record and narrowly miss out on a spot in the postseason. The next season, Luck played in 15 games, but the final result was the exact same: 8-8 record; no playoffs.
This year, after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, the team hoped to have Luck back for the start of the regular season. He was able to return to practice in a very limited fashion by early October, but three weeks later, the team shut him down indefinitely after he experienced shoulder soreness; he was placed on Injured Reserve, ending his season, on Nov. 2.
With a young quarterback in Jacoby Brissett leading the offense, coupled with a completely rebuilt defense (as well as a plethora of other key injuries), the Colts have struggled in 2017, and head into Sunday's Week 17 matchup against the Texans with a 3-12 record.
It's certainly not what Gore has been accustomed to throughout his career, but don't assume he's champing at the bit to pack up and leave town after Sunday's game, never to return.
Gore sees the potential in what first-year general manager Chris Ballard is building in Indianapolis, and with Luck returning to action in 2018, he'd love to get the opportunity to be in the same backfield as No. 12 once again.
"I wish I would've played more with him, but I didn't," Gore said of Luck. "But if I had the chance to come back, if he's healthy, I'd probably come back again. But it's a business, and we'll see."
Accordingly, the Colts will also need to evaluate their needs at the position to determine if Gore fits into their plans for 2018. The team used a fourth-round pick this year to select a running back, Marlon Mack, who has displayed flashes of elite talent as both a runner and a pass catcher; the Colts could also choose to utilize free agency and the draft in 2018 to add to the position.
Ballard faced a similar decision heading into this past offseason. With no ties to Gore, Ballard could've just cut him loose and moved in a different direction, but after speaking with Gore the night he was named the NFL's Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award winner, Ballard said he heard the same passion and love for the game that has been Gore's hallmark his entire career.
"I'm like, 'Do we keep Frank Gore? 34 years old?,'" Ballard recalled to former Colts punter Pat McAfee on his Barstool Sports podcast in November. "So about 10:30 at night I'm coming back from dinner, Super Bowl Saturday, and I call Frank, thinking I'm just going to leave him a congratulations message. He answers the phone, and he's in the middle of a party, and he knew who it was because he'd gotten my number from Alex Smith. 'Chris, you know what it looks like! We are gonna win!,' and I could just feel the passion.
"I went in the next day and watched every single snap of Frank Gore and I said, 'No way am I letting this guy off this football team.'"
But first things first is this final Texans game. Gore, who has moved into fifth place on the NFL's all-time rushing list, sits 139 yards away from the 10th 1,000-yard rushing season of his career. The Colts could also earn a season sweep over Houston to move into third place in the final AFC South Division standings and get a little momentum going into the offseason.
"I just want to get a win, period," Gore said. "I don't care who it is. Just win. I just wanna win, man. It sucks, man, losing and the way you work all week, all year. I just want to win. I don't care who it is, whether it's (the) Texans — I just want to win. It don't matter."