Keeping Rice around wouldn't have worked

The 49ers could use a receiver like Jerry Rice right now. But it's obvious they are better off without him. Rice gets a chance on Sunday to come back and haunt the 49ers as an Oakland Raider, but - even though the 40-year-old Rice continues to excel in Oakland - there is no question letting go of the greatest receiver in NFL history after the 2000 season was the right thing for the Niners to do.

Sure, you can look at Rice now - leading the Raiders in receiving and ranking seventh in the AFC in that department - and think that he would be the perfect receiving complement to Terrell Owens that the Niners need right now to take their offense to the next level.

But that wouldn't be the case if he were with the Niners. Owens is The Man now in San Francisco, and Rice never could accept that, because he was The Man for so many years himself. That would have caused friction in the offense, and hinder the development of Owens, J.J. Stokes and Tai Streets, who just now is starting to make an impact.

"I'm sure he could teach and coach us quite a bit," Stokes said, "but there comes a point when everybody wants to blossom, and I think it was time for us to just do our thing, as far as the young guys getting a chance to spread their wings."

Obviously, without Rice around last year, Owens blossomed into the NFL's best receiver. Stokes, however, struggled to give the Niners a legitimate No. 2 threat and finished with just 54 catches for 585 yards while Rice was ringing up 83 for 1,139 with the Raiders.

Stokes' subpar production continued into this year before a knee injury kept him out for all but two quarters of October. Rice, meanwhile, got off to another strong start in Oakland.

But if he still were with the Niners, they would not be better off. It may be difficult to believe if you look at it from a numbers standpoint. But - even taking salary-cap considerations out of the equation - the Niners would not be growing on offense if Rice still were a part of that attack. They'd still be worrying about keeping him happy, instead of worrying about how to get better and move forward in their passing game.

"Jerry definitely established a high level here, and in so many ways, it has carried over as far as the attitude on the field that our guys have," Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "But, unfortunately, there's only one ball to go around, and you can't always get it to the one guy."

Rice would have always wanted to be that guy with the Niners. But San Francisco already has a better receiver - at this stage of their careers, at least - crying to be that guy. Keeping Rice around never would have worked for the Niners, no matter how good he is looking these days in Oakland.




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