The Jerry Rice Rule: A Proposition To The NFL

Matt MCorrespondent IAugust 7, 2009

MALIBU, CA - JULY 24: Athlete Jerry Rice poses at the Madden NFL 10 Pigskiin Pro-Am on Xbox 360 event  on July 24, 2009 in Malibu, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Jerry Rice was the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game of football.  Most NFL fans wouldn’t argue against him being the greatest football player of all time.

As a lifelong, faithful 49er fan, it pained me seeing Jerry Rice suit up in the Silver and Black. 

To later watch him reach milestones and break records (200 touchdowns) as a Raider, was like watching my father cry for the first time. 

Jerry Rice, the man who was selected to 12 Pro Bowls, 12 All Pros, won three Super Bowls, a Super Bowl MVP, a Pro Bowl MVP, Rookie of the Year, and two NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors as a 49er, was now playing for San Francisco’s cross-town Bay Area rival.

I guess once you go silver and black, you actually can  go back, as Rice proceeded to play for the Seahawks during the 2004 season and finally the Denver Broncos in the 2005 preseason. 

I don’t even think Broncos fans enjoyed seeing the legendary Jerry Rice suit up in their attire.  Like “mistaking” the charity jar for a take-a-penny tray, or kissing a twice-removed cousin, it just felt… wrong.

Why did this atrocity occur you might ask?

The answer is simple: limited roster and salary cap space in a “what have you done for me lately?” type of world.

The solution: a “Legacy” tag, or as I like to think of it, the “Jerry Rice Rule.”

The rule could go something along the lines of:

Every year, one team is allotted an additional roster spot (54th spot), to designate a “legacy player.”  The salary of such "legacy player," up to $5 million, is not counted against the salary cap up.

To qualify for a “legacy tag” the designated player must:

a)      Currently be on the roster of the designating team (obvious, but had to be stated as you never know what kind of loophole or rule manipulations Belichick has up his sleeve).

b)      Have been drafted by the team which is placing the “legacy tag”

c)       Have played 10+ seasons with the team placing the “legacy tag”

This rule would benefit the NFL along with its loyal players and fan-bases.


First of all, it would directly improve the legacy that each player left on their franchise.  This would benefit the legacy player (and player’s family) who was able to remain with and retire as a member of their beloved original team. 

It wouldn’t mean having to change homes, jerseys, or teammates.  It would provide the legacy player with the security of consistency. 

In addition to legacy players, the legacy tag, would benefit young “fringe” players as well. 

Telling an NFL executive to trim their roster to 53 players is like telling Kate Moss to lose 10 pounds.   Every season there are about five to 10 professional caliber players on an NFL roster that compete for the final few spots and every year promising and capable players are released without ever having the chance to prove themselves in a real game. 

In cases of a team wanting to keep developed players and veteran leadership over promising and unproven commodities, the roster casualties include the young and inexperienced.  Without ever having a legitimate shot at an NFL roster, many cut athletes must retire from the sport entirely to try and pay their bills and support their families. 

How many Tony Romo’s, Shaun Hill’s, Derek Anderson’s, Jake Delhomme’s, and Kurt Warner’s (all of whom were either undrafted or cut in their youth) were overlooked and turned away from the sport entirely due to that one-less roster spot? We truthfully will never know.  If NFL executives were able to save an extra roster spot, while maintaining veteran leadership, they could provide one more “fringe player” their chance at NFL stardom, and provide NFL fans with one more potential star.  It truly is a win-win scenario.

Some may say that keeping the rosters small is a necessity for owners who already suffer from excessive player expenditures.  Somehow, I doubt that one extra NFL rookie minimum salary of $310,000 is going to put the NFL owner over the edge.  It’s the money hungry stars of today who demand 10 million a year just for going in the top 10 of a draft that are the real problem.  With such wealth disparity depriving young “fringe” athletes a living and chance at a dream, it becomes much more than an “NFL problem,” it’s a social problem. 


Coming from a fan, the “Legacy Tag” or “Jerry Rice Rule” would be a saving grace to the NFL fan-base.

Sigmund Freud himself couldn’t oust the repressed, emotionally-scarred memories I possess from watching Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, or any other legacy player for that matter, play for the enemy. 

The image of Jerry Rice in a non-49er jersey was so haunting to my childhood that I can’t even look at our very own Isaac Bruce the same.  Despite the fact that Bruce was the 49ers leading receiver in 2008, it still makes me uncomfortable watching him catch a 49er pass. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am about as sympathetic towards the Rams as Bruno is towards social boundaries. 

It’s a matter of principle.   It’s the principle of playing for the love of the game, for a team that you love, and fans that love and have always loved you. 

It’s a matter of maintaining a player’s legacy and relationship with the team and fan-base.

Needless to say, the “Jerry Rice Rule” would benefit the fans who didn’t have to watch their beloved franchise star move on to greener (pun intended) pastures.


Lastly, the “Jerry Rice Rule” or “Legacy Tag” would benefit the sanctity of the NFL and the sport of football. 

By not forcing players to sacrifice team loyalty in search of fair market value, the league and its players could become more positive role models to the NFL fan-base, providing the NFL a much-needed image face-lift. 

After all, telling your child that his beloved franchise star and childhood hero is violating his team allegiances to “get paid” and “make it rain” is about as horrifyingly uncomfortable as dispelling the stork and baby myth. 

In a league so concerned with self-image, with a commissioner so fixated on providing positive, example-setting role-models, exemplifying the values of loyalty and teamwork could go a long way.