PULSE: In the News

Jerry Rice: 49ers Should Pursue Peyton Manning

By: Ron Kroichick, San Francisco Chronicle

Jerry Rice, who has some experience with Hall of Fame quarterbacks, wants to see Peyton Manning barking instructions, making hand signals and flinging passes in a 49ers uniform.

Rice was dressed for golf Tuesday in Hayward, where he appeared to promote next month's Nationwide Tour event at TPC Stonebrae. He also offered his thoughts on several football matters - including the possibility, however remote, of the 49ers pursuing Manning in free agency.

"I think you go for it, you really do," Rice said in an interview with The Chronicle and the Bay Area News Group. "You have to go after him. You've got a defense that's going to smack you in the mouth, but you need a little more from the offense.

"Not knocking what Alex Smith did ... but a guy with the knowledge and talent of Peyton Manning, I think you'd take it to a whole different level. If he's healthy, he's going to have a chip on his shoulder like crazy. He's going to be pissed."

The Colts will release Manning today, according to espn.com, and allow him to leave as a free agent. They had faced a Thursday deadline to pick up the remaining four years on Manning's contract.

The Redskins and Dolphins are expected to be among the teams interested in Manning, who is coming off his third neck surgery in 19 months. Rice, now an ESPN analyst, predicted each of those teams would win 10 games with a healthy Manning at quarterback.

Rice did not hesitate to offer his opinion on another pressing 49ers issue - the need to upgrade their wide receivers. He clearly is not confident in Michael Crabtree's ability to become the solution at that position.

"I thought Crabtree was going to be more productive," Rice said. "... I just did not see separation (from defensive backs). Maybe that's something he needs to work on. Maybe he needs to lose 10 or 15 pounds and be more explosive."

Asked if he thinks Crabtree can become that explosive receiver, Rice replied, "It's up to him. You have to sacrifice yourself and put the team's best interests at heart. I really don't know him, so I can't comment on his work ethic. But it's really up to him to say he's going to be the best receiver he can be."

Crabtree had 72 catches for 874 yards last season, his third in the NFL. He caught only five passes for 28 yards in two playoff games, highlighting San Francisco's need at wide receiver.

Among Rice's other observations:

-- On Smith potentially returning at quarterback: "If they're going to invest that much money in Alex, and they feel he can get the job done, then do it. I know he made significant improvement (last season) and did what was asked of him. Maybe he can get more weapons around him, and knowing he has a coach with confidence in him ... that might bring out the best in him."

-- On the 49ers' third-down struggles in the NFC title game: "The 49ers back in the day did not go 1-for-13 on third-down conversions. That was something we always worked on. Once we got to the red zone, we thought about scoring touchdowns. I saw a little hesitation. I don't know if they just felt they didn't have the guys to get it done in the red zone or they just wanted to settle for field goals."

-- On whether he thought defensive players ever had a "bounty" on him: "All the time. You could just tell by their actions. If the ball's not coming my way, I was still getting hit. That's part of the game. Certain teams felt they had to take out the top players. ... But I don't condone putting a (monetary) number on it. That's not part of the game."