Tom Brady might be the best QB ever, but Jerry Rice is the NFL GOAT

Tom Brady might be the best QB ever, but Jerry Rice is the NFL GOAT

For decades, goat was a sports pejorative. It’s only in the last decade or so that the acronym GOAT came to mean Greatest Of All Time and it’s been tossed around liberally ever since. 

Especially here in New England where Tom Brady’s statistical body of work, otherworldly performances on the game’s biggest stages and his longevity have made him undeniably the greatest winner in NFL history and — in my opinion — the greatest quarterback of all-time. 

But the NFL GOAT? At any position? I still have a hard time moving off of Jerry Rice. 

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It was this week’s Sports Uncovered Podcast reflecting on the disappearance of Raiders center Barrett Robbins that got me thinking about that team, that game and Rice. 

That ill-fated Super Bowl loss for Oakland was the final Super Bowl of Rice’s career. It was the final playoff game of the 29 in which he played where he caught a pass. 

And Rice wasn’t just out there for the Raiders in February of 2003 running routes and being a decoy. At 40, Jerry Rice was still a force. He led the Raiders in receptions (92) and yards (1,211) during the 2002 regular season and had another 14 catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the Raiders' three playoff games. 

As the Bucs defense wore out the Raiders offense in the 48-21 dud of a Super Bowl, I remembered feeling badly that Rice was quite likely playing in his final Super Bowl and going out that way. 

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After one more productive season with the Raiders at 41, catching 63 passes for 869 yards, he split 2004 between Oakland and Seattle and had just 30 catches. Rice retired before the 2005 season, finishing his career in a Broncos uniform. 

When he was done, he held 38 NFL records including career receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and touchdown receptions (197). He averaged 77 catches a season for 20 years.

There will never be another wide receiver who’ll match Jerry Rice’s production because no receiver will ever play as long. But he wasn’t just marking time at the end of his career. Randy Moss — probably the greatest downfield wide receiver in NFL history — finished his 14-year NFL career with 982 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns. After retiring at 33, he came back for the 2012 season at 35 and caught 28 passes for San Francisco. 

After the age of 35, Rice had three seasons with over 1,100 yards and six seasons over 800 yards. He caught 492 balls for 6,440 yards in 114 regular season games (he played 17 games in the 2004 season between Oakland and Seattle). So an average season for him was 70 catches for 920 yards from the age of 36 through 42. An average game was 4.3 catches for 56.5 yards. 

In the 111 games A.J. Green’s played in his career, he’s caught 602 balls for 8,907 yards. That’s 5.4 catches for 80.2 yards from the ages of 23 through 30. 

Jerry Rice after 35 was a reasonable comp for A.J. Green in the prime of his career. 

What Rice did over the course of his career as a wide receiver was Ruthian. Nobody will match his numbers. Similarly, nobody figures to catch Brady’s six Super Bowl wins nor will they author the same indelible moments he did over his two decades. And he’s not done yet. 

Which one is the GOAT? We can go around and around on that for a real long time. They are, when you think about it, very similar in terms of longevity, durability and absolute refusal to give even an inch of leeway to old age and diminishing skills. 

Rice, of course, was on that Raiders team that lost in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs at Foxboro. We call it The Snow Bowl and remember it most for Adam Vinatieri’s miraculous game-tying field goal. The rest of the country calls it the Tuck Rule Game. 

Had Brady’s fumble stood, would Rice have won another Super Bowl that season? Had Barrett Robbins not gone AWOL, would the Raiders have won in 2002?

Those are “what ifs” and they’ll forever stay that way. 

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Opt-out deadline looms for Patriots, rest of NFL

Opt-out deadline looms for Patriots, rest of NFL

The opt-out deadline loometh.

By 4 p.m. Thursday, any NFL player in the “high-risk” category can opt out and receive $350,000 and credit for an accrued season. Players without the “high-risk” designation will be paid $150,000. That money will be considered an advance on their 2021 salaries.

As of Wednesday night, 60 players had opted out, including eight Patriots. Meanwhile, 56 players tested positive for COVID during initial screening as they reported for this very different training camp. That’s fewer than three percent of all players. Another 107 had it prior to reporting. Those numbers are according to the NFLPA.

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So what will Thursday bring? The Patriots are leading the league in opt-outs by a wide margin. Four Browns have opted out as of Thursday morning. Several teams have three opt outs.

A team’s fortunes can be radically altered by an opt-out if a key player decides the risk is too great for him or his family. The AFC East has probably seen the most consequential opt outs so far.  

Expectations for the Patriots have to be reconfigured as they figure out how to best replace Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung and Marcus Cannon. The Jets are going to be without talented linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Dolphins are without wide receivers Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson. And the Bills have lost corner E.J. Gaines and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

Meanwhile, their brilliant corner Tre’Davious White was still wrestling with his decision on Thursday morning and railing on Twitter that he was being criticized for debating it. The replies are — as you might imagine — a trip. Maintaining the status quo on this topic, a fleet of people wonder how come they don’t get to opt out of their 9-to-5.

Because you can’t. OK? Maybe if you tackled people at work you’d have a shot, but you probably don’t. And if you do tackle people at work and you didn’t get the opt-out provision, you gotta get yourself to the NFL ASAFP.

Will the Patriots lose any more players? Certainly could. A number of players are still wrestling with it. With a decision so personal and difficult, I’ve come to realize it’s unfair to speculate on individual players and why they may or may not decide to play. (Patrick Chung helped me get there…).

For the lion’s share, the decision is so difficult because it revolves around factors other than their or their family’s personal health. It’s not cut-and-dried.

Age, finances, professional satisfaction, all of it can weigh in.

Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, asked last week if he considered opting out, said, "Uh, nope I feel like our team is so, so close to a championship.”

We’ll keep you updated throughout the day and Phil Perry and I will sift through all of it on Tom Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast after the deadline. 

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NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps are already in full swing, but there are some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Eight New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Arizona Cardinals

OT Marcus Gilbert (August 4)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

DT Andrew Billings (August 4)
OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)
OL Colby Gossett (August 4)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (August 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (August 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (August 2)
C Russell Bodine (August 5)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Indianapolis Colts

DB Rolan Milligan (August 5) 
LB Skai Moore (August 4)
DB Marvell Tell (August 5)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
OT Lucas Niang (August 6)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

LB Ukeme Eligwe (August 4)
CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns (August 4)
WR Albert Wilson (August 5)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

CB Sam Beal (August 5)
WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB C.J. Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

San Francisco 49ers

WR Travis Benjamin (August 4)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)