Walsh: Rice to catch passes for Oakland

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

LOS ALTOS, Calif. (AP) -- Jerry Rice could be headed across the Bay.

Rice, who set every significant NFL receiving record during 16 years with the San Francisco 49ers, was released by the team Monday. He soon will sign with the Oakland Raiders, 49ers vice president Bill Walsh said at Rice's charity golf tournament.

But before teeing off at Los Altos Hills Country Club, Rice said he was still deciding between the Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks. Agent Jim Steiner said both teams submitted contract offers, and Rice planned to make his final choice Monday night.

''We hope to get something done real soon, so I can do what I've been doing over the years,'' Rice said. ''I'm pretty close, and I'm excited about that, because this has been a long, long offseason. I'm ready to bring it to a close right now.''

Steiner said Rice's new deal would include a ''two-year commitment on both sides' part,'' though the actual contract may be longer because of salary cap machinations.

The 38-year-old Rice, who has a record 1,281 receptions and 187 touchdowns, had spent his entire career with the 49ers, but was cut because of the team's salary cap problems. Rice anticipated his release since early last season, when he said he planned to play at least two more years.

''The closure of this is great, and I'm glad it's the Raiders,'' Walsh said. ''I'm glad it's close, and that he doesn't feel he's being shipped to Devil's Island somewhere in the Midwest. I think he'll do very well over there.''

Raiders spokesman Craig Long wouldn't comment ''at the present time.''

Although he lists his team triumphs -- three Super Bowl titles and 14 winning seasons -- as his greatest achievements, Rice has had an unparalleled career with the 49ers.

Also among his NFL records are his 176 touchdowns on pass receptions; 12 seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving; 1,848 yards receiving in a single season; and 22 touchdown receptions in a single season.

The 12-time Pro Bowl selection was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1993 and the Super Bowl MVP in 1989. He has 19,247 yards receiving, including at least one catch in his last 225 games, another record.

''I think I've had time to prepare for it, and I'm at peace right now,'' Rice said. ''I've had so many great years with the 49ers. I have so many friendships. I can always go back to that.''

Rice is the final link to the 49ers' two decades of excellence. Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young and countless others already have retired, and Walsh recently stepped down as general manager.

Rice would become the latest San Francisco great to spend the twilight years of his career with the Raiders and owner Al Davis. In addition to the teams' geographical rivalry, Davis frequently clashed with the 49ers during the tenure of former San Francisco GM Carmen Policy.

Over the years, the Raiders have lured Lott, Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, Marquez Pope and others into the silver and black. Oakland signed Charlie Garner, the 49ers' leading rusher the past two seasons, to a four-year contract in April.

The 49ers offered Rice a $1 million bonus to retire. His release gave San Francisco approximately $2.5 million in cap room, which GM Terry Donahue will use to sign backup quarterback Rick Mirer and several rookies.

''Jerry Rice is a 49er for life. That's just the way it is,'' Donahue said. ''But it's a time for the organization to move on. We've got young players to step up and carry the torch.''

Steve Mariucci, who coached Rice in his final four seasons in San Francisco, already was thinking about the 49ers' Aug. 19 preseason game on Candlestick Point against the Raiders.

''That's going to be weird, won't it?'' Mariucci asked. ''I bet he'll come over to our sideline by mistake.''

Rice became football's most prolific receiver with abundant natural skill honed by an inexhaustible work ethic. Even this summer, with his future in doubt, Rice went through dozens of extensive workouts on the Stanford campus.

Walsh, then the 49ers' coach, traded up in the 1985 draft to select him out of tiny Mississippi Valley State. Walsh proclaimed Rice the greatest player in football history last December.

''I'm going to miss him, and I'm glad he's going to be close by so I can watch him,'' Walsh said Monday.

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