Nolan, Niners not interested in Rice as receiver

The Seattle Seahawks officially released Jerry Rice on Friday, and Rice already is on record as saying earlier this month, "I will retire as a 49er." But there's this one little hang-up preventing the greatest receiver in NFL history from immediately coming back to San Francisco to join a young group of receivers who obviously could benefit from his presence.

The 49ers don't want him. Not as a player, at least.

And, if the 49ers were to bring him back as a mentor to their young receiving corps in 2005, as many envision, it apparently would have to be on terms that would allow Rice an opportunity to get on the field.

With the 49ers practically certain to return five veteran receivers with three years of NFL experience or less – at least for spring drills as they shape their roster – new coach Mike Nolan nixed the idea of bringing Rice back as a mentor to those youngsters.

"At this time, not with this group that we have," Nolan said. "We have discussed it and he'll continue to be a part of. … We have a list of names and all, and we don't take him off that list from a discussion standpoint. As we continue to evaluate our guys, mentoring the young guys is certainly something that has been talked about because we do have a young group of receivers. But right now, it is not something that we are pursuing."

Rice, who set every significant NFL receiving record during his 16 years with the 49ers before leaving the team after the 2000 season, appears to be leaning toward finding another place to play for an astounding 21st NFL season.

After leaving the Niners, Rice added to his record numbers during three productive seasons with the Oakland Raiders before that production fell off significantly early last season., when he caught just five passes in Oakland's first four games.

He was then acquired by Seattle, where he finished the season with 25 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns. During his time with the Seahawks, Rice set his 35th NFL record, becoming the league's all-time leader in combined total yards.

Rice, who was in the San Francisco Bay Area two weeks ago for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament, indicated then that he would like to play one more season.

"I'm gonna sit down, give it some serious thought, see what happens," Rice said. "I'm gonna leave all my options open."

Rice, however, said it already was an open-and-shut matter that he would retire with the 49ers.

"I know it's gonna happen," he said. "I'm (just) not saying when."

After being released by Seattle, Rice told ESPN Radio on Friday, "I still have a lot in my tank. I can still play if a team will give me that opportunity. There's a good chance that I will be back in uniform next year. I still feel like I have a lot of football left in me."

The 49ers are willing and ready today to sign Rice to a contract with the team that will serve as a prelude to a retirement ceremony in his honor. But Nolan doesn't believe Rice is ready to return to the team under those conditions.

"At this time, I don't know that he wants to come back for the ‘farewell tour,'" Nolan said. "I think right now, it is my understanding in our discussions that Jerry still wants to test the market and see if someone is interested in having him on the team as a full-time participant."

Nolan made it clear the 49ers aren't that someone.

However, Nolan also made it clear Rice will be welcomed home to where it all began when he is ready to retire.

"As far as the next step, if he wants to retire and things like that, that is certainly something that we would be very open to," Nolan said. "But it is my understanding right now at this time that those aren't his desires."

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