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NFL briefs

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001

Lions can talk to Rice

Lions can talk to Rice

PONTIAC, Mich. -- The Lions have received permission to speak with Jerry Rice about joining them next season.

The Lions said on their Web site that Rice, who set nearly every significant receiving record during 16 seasons with San Francisco, is in Detroit to meet team officials today.

Rice is under contract to the 49ers but they plan to release him after June1 to clear $2.5-million in salary-cap room, Walsh has said. Rice, 38, still wants to play one or two more seasons.

Detroit's new coach, Marty Mornhinweg, was the 49ers offensive coordinator the past two seasons and an offensive assistant before that.

Seattle, Oakland and Cleveland also have shown interest in Rice, who caught 75 passes for 805 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Walsh preps for new role

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Now the work comes easy for Bill Walsh.

Letting it go figures to be the hard part for the 69-year-old general manager of the 49ers, whose third tour with the team, spanning 23 years, is about to have another transformation.

He has been a pioneering offensive strategist, a Super Bowl winning coach, a front-office executive, a daring draft-day mover and talent evaluator. This weekend, Walsh is overseeing his last draft. He then will step into an unspecified role as consultant, allowing assistant general manager Terry Donahue to take over as chief of football operations.

The move, talked about for months, could be announced within a week, or as soon as Sunday after the final session of the two-day draft, Walsh said.

In his final days running the team, Walsh has leaped into his job, trying to work a deal with free-agent defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield amid preparations for a draft he hopes will help the 49ers become a playoff contender again.

"Has he been melancholy? No," coach Steve Mariucci said. "He's energized. He's very into this draft, and he's working hard at it. He's been very involved in these contract negotiations with Stubblefield. He's been terrific."

Walsh has refused to become preoccupied with a countdown to another job change.

"It hasn't hit me yet, but it will. It will be tough because it means reorganizing and restructuring my life a little bit," said Walsh, who grudgingly recognizes his time as a front-office force is over.

Yet he remains wary of his impending consultant's role because of the vague job definition and his ill-fated return as an offensive consultant in 1996. The experiment failed, and he left the team for a second time after that season.

"He doesn't know how to be a consultant, and he also knows when you're a consultant, you're nothing," said Fox analyst John Madden, who spoke with Walsh at last month's NFL meetings. "And I say that out of respect for the man and for what he's done."

Donahue said he will make sure Walsh remains engaged with the team in his new role, particularly on draft-day trading maneuvers.

"I've learned from Bill every day I've been here," Donahue said. "And it isn't like this is my last draft with him. He's going to be in the draft next year and the year after that and the year after that. So the nice thing is that all of Bill's abilities and experience are going to be in the organization and be at my disposal for a long time to come."

BRONCOS: After 12 seasons and 29 operations, offensive lineman Mark Schlereth will retire today. Schlereth, a 10th-round draft pick who opened holes for Terrell Davis and protected John Elway, scheduled a news conference to make the announcement. The 35-year-old has had 20 knee operations, 15 on his left knee, but missed only 26 games because of injury.

CHIEFS: Former St. Louis cornerback Taje Allen and XFL tight end Mark Thomas signed two-year contracts. Also, Rams wide receiver and kickoff returner Tony Horne signed a two-year offer sheet.

COWBOYS: Emmitt Smith had successful eye surgery to correct a weak muscle that occasionally caused double vision. Smith was released from the hospital in the afternoon and was home resting comfortably, team spokesman Doug Hood said.

Dallas trainer Jim Maurer said Smith's weakness was in the muscle that controls the eye's movement.

DOLPHINS: Receiver O.J. McDuffie accepted a pay cut of nearly $1.1-million in exchange for a guaranteed $1-million salary this season. The agreement allowed Miami to clear about $1.5-million in salary-cap room.

Also, former Jets receiver Dedric Ward agreed to a two-year contract. Ward set career bests last season with 54 catches for 801 yards and three touchdowns.

JAGUARS: Center Jeff Smith agreed to a one-year, $700,000 contract.

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