NFL running backs are under attack pertaining their value, with a large part of that debate being rooted in the position's shelf life.
With Melvin Gordon holding out of Los Angeles Chargers' training camp and Ezekiel Elliott doing the same with the Dallas Cowboys -- both awaiting new deals before making their way to practice -- the landscape is filled with analysts arguing their stance from either side of the aisle. One group feels each RB should be valued based upon the contribution(s) to their respective team as opposed to being lumped in and generalized, while the other faction insists none of that matters because halfbacks are a dime a dozen, and largely because of the beating they take that usually ends their career early.
Enter Frank Gore.
The future first ballot Hall of Famer is entering his 15th season in the NFL, and that puts him in rare company. When it comes to legendary RBs, this tenure puts Gore in the same air as Marcus Allen, John Riggins and all-time NFL rushing champ Emmitt Smith. Even more impressive is how, at 36 years of age, Gore is as productive as he's ever been. Over the course of NFL history, only 16 feature backs have produced a 1,000-yard rushing season after hitting the age of 30 -- the consensus apex wherein RBs most often begin a steep physical decline -- with Gore being the only one to register three of those campaigns.
For added perspective, he fell only 33 yards short and 39 yards short in 2015 and 2017, respectively, from achieving the feat in five of his last six seasons.
Gore will be 37 when 2020 rolls around, and it sounds like he's not only located the Fountain of Youth -- he likely owns the rights to it.
"I feel good, man," he said, via The Buffalo News."...I'm blessed to be playing a game that I still love at the age that a lot of people say you can't play it. I'm doing something I love. I'm enjoying it."
His 2018 season with the Miami Dolphins saw a bit of a downturn thanks to a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve, but he still racked up 722 rushing yards in 14 games, and added another 124 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown.
"Last year, I was having a good year," Gore said. "I got hurt the last two games, and I didn't want to stop like that. I still feel like I can play at a high level."
Now signed to the Buffalo Bills on a one-year deal worth $2 million, he joins a backfield that includes a dynamic talent in LeSean McCoy and other young talent like T.J. Yeldon and Devin Singletary, amongst others. Although he's willing to mentor the new guard of halfbacks in Buffalo, the elder statesmen isn't conceding anything on the field ( ).
"I don't worry about that," Gore said. "As long as I'm healthy and feeling good, I will compete with anybody. So I'm not tripping on that."
And for those who are wondering when he'll finally hang up his cleats and move on from his playing days in the NFL, Gore says don't hold your breath.
"I'm not thinking about [retirement] right now," he said, definitively. "I'm just going out there every day, trying to compete and try to win a job. If I feel like I can't go out there this year, I'll say, 'Forget it.' If I still think I can go and feel good and [I'm] still enjoying it, I'll go.
"But right now, I'll just take it one day at a time and see where it goes."
Players like Gordon and Elliott can point a definitive finger at Gore as the latest example of how long an NFL running back can play and produce at a high level. The reality, though, is doing so requires a Hall of Fame caliber talent along with a balanced offensive workload and a little luck on the injury front. While no one's claiming Gordon has a gold jacket in his future, he's still one of the best in the game going into the 2019 season. Elliott, however, is one who no one denies could ultimately own a bust in Canton, but the Cowboys will need to establish an offensive plan that isn't solely based on grinding the 24-year-old into a pile of dust.
That was their plan in drafting rookies Mike Weber and Tony Pollard, and the re-signing of Alfred Morris to push Weber and veteran Darius Jackson shows they're not naive to what they've been asking of Elliott, and why it can't continue at the same pace.
For Gore, if he can secure a deal in 2020 with any team, he'll tie the legendary Allen for longest tenure of a feature back in NFL history. Allen wasn't able to produce a 1,000-yard season after the age of 30, though, in case you needed another tidbit to show just how alien Gore really is. He's a five-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro selected in the third round of the 2005 draft, and that's one year before Twitter even existed.
Can Gordon, Elliott and others ever match such a pinnacle?
Time will tell, but the mold has officially been broken.