Has Jerry Rice made his final catch for the San Francisco 49ers? Has Jessie Tuggle made his last tackle for the Atlanta Falcons?
Tonight's game at the Georgia Dome didn't have any ramifications as far as the playoffs were concerned, but it might be remembered as the end of an era for two of the generation's top players.
While Rice and Tuggle want to play another season, it's not known if their teams--both finishing near the bottom of the NFL--will be able to afford two aging warriors as they go into a rebuilding mode.
"I'm not sure what to think, because I do think he would like to come back, and I do think the head coach here would like to have him back," 49ers Coach Steve Mariucci said. "We'll see how that plays out. A lot of that will be governed by his desire, and our ability to afford a Jerry Rice with all our salary cap restraints. Don't rule him out for next year.
But San Francisco General Manager Bill Walsh has hinted that Rice won't be back for a 16th season with the 49ers, who are about $20 million over the projected $62.2 million cap. The 37-year-old receiver has a cap figure of $5.5 million for 2000.
"I never thought I'd be in this predicament, but here I am," Rice said recently. "I'm looking at it with a very positive attitude and I'm working hard during practices and I'm just trying to make the team for next year."
Rice was the 49ers' leading receiver with 61 receptions and five touchdowns heading into the season finale. But he was averaging a career-low 11.3 yards per catch.
After injuring both knees since 1997, Rice said he finally was healthy and wanted to be around to help the team bounce back from its first losing season since 1982.
Tuggle has similar aspirations in Atlanta. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl for the first time in 1999, but they have fallen apart in the role of defending NFC champions.
Coach Dan Reeves isn't sure if the team can afford the NFL's active leader in career tackles. Tuggle made $2.9 million this season and turns 35 in April.
"You have to wait it out," said Tuggle, who has been with the Falcons since 1987 and a full-time starter at middle linebacker since '89. "I'm not going to worry about it. I don't worry about things I can't control. I definitely want to be back next year."
The 49ers also must determine the status of quarterback Steve Young, who has missed most of the season with another concussion. Young, 38, has not said whether he plans to play next season, though he has yet to be cleared medically. His cap figure for next season is $8.1 million.