Why Sidney Rice Is Worth a Gamble for the San Francisco 49ers

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Why Sidney Rice Is Worth a Gamble for the San Francisco 49ers
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have one of the best rivalries in today's NFL, and wide receiver Sidney Rice has plenty of experience on the green-and-blue side of the fight. 

In three years since signing as a free agent in 2011, Rice has experienced playoff runs and a Super Bowl championship in a Seahawks uniform.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, however, Rice's time in Seattle is soon expected to come to an end: 

While the move has not yet been made official, Rice's potential cap savings make it hard to picture him on Seattle's roster next season. According to ESPN (via John Boyle of The Daily Herald), Rice is due $17.5 million in base salary over the next two years under his current contract. 

Of course, the Seahawks and 49ers are no strangers to picking up each other's players. In a fun twist to the rivalry, quarterback B.J. Daniels, cornerback Perrish Cox and wide receiver Ricardo Lockette all spent time with both organizations in 2013. 

Assuming that Rice does indeed hit the market, he could quickly become an attractive free-agent target for the hated 49ers.

Standing at 6'4" and 200 pounds, Rice represents the big red-zone target that the team desires while possessing enough speed to be a consistent threat. Originally a second-round pick and a Pro Bowler for the Minnesota Vikings, persistent injuries have been the primary setback to his sustained success. 

As pointed out by Kevin Patra of NFL.com, Rice has missed 25 games over the last four seasons alone. This figure includes the second half of 2013, missed after Rice tore his ACL in a Week 8 contest versus the St. Louis Rams

On the other hand, however, Rice managed to start and play in all 16 games in 2012, finishing with 50 catches, 748 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
This type of red-zone grab would be a welcome sight for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

While Rice's injury history is likely to prevent him from receiving another high-end contract, his loss could be the 49ers' gain. His resume likely fits the bill for a veteran receiver available on the cheap, helping bolster the passing game without breaking the bank.

This is a player that once hauled in 83 catches and 1,312 yards in 2009, matching an NFL playoff record that season with three touchdowns in a single game. With his size and veteran presence, Rice could be a great weapon for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, complete with a sizable chip on his shoulder. 

In addition, Rice would be provided with at least two opportunities to show his former team what they're missing.

The 49ers' issues scoring touchdowns are well documented, but any Rice highlight reel will showcase the receiver's body control and strong hands. Even without truly elite speed, Rice can be seen getting behind defensive backs with a knack for big plays. 

San Francisco 49ers in the Red Zone: Touchdowns
Red Zone TD Percentage NFL Rank
2011 40.68% 30th
2012 54.69% 15th
2013 53.03% 15th

http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/red-zone-scoring-pct

After watching the last two seasons crumble on late red-zone stalls, it's about time the 49ers take a gamble on a potentially big fix. 

It's rare that a player with as much talent as Rice becomes available on the open market, and at 27 years old, it's still plausible to see him regain his form. If he can be brought into the fold with a reasonable base salary on a one-year deal, the 49ers would happily pay incentives for a touchdown-heavy season. 

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This is the type of weapon that can put the 49ers over the top. As a No. 3 option at best in San Francisco behind receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, further injuries would also bring a very low risk of derailing the offense as a whole.

For Rice, the situation could present an opportunity to rebuild his career on a strong team with a chance to compete.

As yet another chapter in a sizzling rivalry, the Rice signing could be the best option for both sides. While it shouldn't prevent the team from investing in a receiver early in the draft, Rice could be the first bold step in a 2014 Super Bowl run. 

 

All statistics, unless otherwise noted, referenced from pro-football-reference.com. Tom Smeaton is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and an opinionated tweeter at @smeaton49.

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