Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice spent the first 15 years of his illustrious career with the San Francisco 49ers. Rice put up historic numbers with the franchise while experiencing a tremendous amount of success over his tenure. However, his career nearly took another path as there was the potential of him being taken by the Dallas Cowboy had the 49ers not moved in position to snag him in the first round of the 1985 draft.
Jerry Rice’s 49ers’ tenure
Following being selected 16th overall in the 1985 draft, Rice quickly latched onto the 49ers in a prominent role in the offense.
San Francisco had already become a powerhouse in the NFL before the Mississippi Valley State’s arrival as they had won two out of the previous four Super Bowls. The 49ers had won two out of the last four Super Bowls and were coming off convincingly winning Super Bowl XIX over the Miami Dolphins.
It didn’t take Rice long to garner a significant role in the offense as he quickly became Hall of Famer Joe Montana’s favorite target in the passing game. During his tenure with San Francisco, he won three Super Bowls with two coming with Montana and the later with Hall of Famer Steve Young.
He finished as the all-time franchise leader with 19,247 receiving yards, 1,281 receptions, 176 receiving touchdowns, which are all seemingly untouchable marks. Rice established himself as an all-time great and is held by man as being the best wide receiver in league history. However, his career could have taken an entirely different path in the 1985 draft had the 49ers not traded up to get him.
Cowboys nearly drafted Jerry Rice
In the weeks heading into the 1985 draft, Rice had caught the attention of many NFL scouts after his record-breaking 1984 season. It put him on the map as a possible first-round selection, which drew the attention of the 49ers and Cowboys.
Despite San Francisco holding the last pick in the first round due to winning the Super Bowl, the team traded their first two picks to the New England Patriots for the 16th overall post. However, if the 49ers had not moved up to snag, the Cowboys were reportedly more than set on taking him.
Former Cowboys vice president Gil Brandt told former San Francisco 49ers’ scout back in 2010 on NFL Network that he thought his team had a clear shot at landing Rice with the 17th overall pick. (H/T Gary Mihoces of USA Today Sports)
“We thought that we were going to be able to draft Jerry Rice because we didn’t think you all knew as much about him or felt as strongly about Rice as we did,” Brandt told Lombardi during a recent NFL Network conference call with reporters.
The Cowboys were zoned in on Rice as their scout Ron Marciniak was extremely high on him before the draft. There was simply no belief from Dallas that the 49ers would move up to snag him.
The Cowboys wound up taking Michigan defensive end Kevin Brooks, who played just four seasons with the team tallying up 12.5 sacks over that span.
How would Jerry Rice’s career played out with Cowboys?
Things would have been drastically different for Rice as he would have become a crucial cog in the Cowboys offense.
He would have worked with quarterback Danny White for his first few seasons in the league. That may have put him in line to work with Troy Aikman and may not have seen the Cowboys draft Michael Irvin with Rice being in the mix.
There’s no question he had the talent to be an all-time great, but it would have seen his career taken an entirely different path that may not have seen him win a pair of Super Bowls early in his career.
There are plenty of what-ifs in this scenario, but it makes you wonder how things would have panned out for Rice in a Cowboys uniform.