The San Francisco 49ers made their peace Thursday with Steve Young, signing last year's MVP and leading passer to the richest contract in NFL history.
Just three months ago, in a bumbling attempt to keep four-time Super Bowl winner Joe Montana, the 49ers said they would bench Young and play Montana. But the clumsy effort failed and Young was reinstated as the starter immediately after Montana's April trade to Kansas City.Young's signing to a five-year contract worth $26.75 million was an emphatic signal that the organization was now ready to cast its lot with Young.
"Steve has been a solid member of this team,"' said Carmen Policy, the team president. "He's always been there when we've needed him. Even if he didn't agree with what was happening on the field or off the field, he never turned his back on the organization. And I think it was time that the organization recognized that."
Young's annual compensation will average $5.35 million, surpassing the $4.8 million per year average for Denver's John Elway, according to Young's agent, Leigh Steinberg.
Being the NFL's highest paid player is "no big deal," said Young, who in 1984 signed a $40 million contract with the Los Angeles Express of the now defunct U.S. Football League.
"That kind of thing comes and goes," he said. "I'm just going to play ball. We leave this negotiation ready to go to work."
Agreement was reached late Wednesday, after 9 1/2 hours of negotiations between Steinberg and Policy.
Young missed the team's first training camp practice while waiting for the contract to be completed. After he signed it, he held a news conference and took the field for the afternoon practice.
He said his main satisfaction regarding the contract was that it validated his place with the 49ers and allowed him to get to camp on time.
"I can't imagine anything worse than missing practice," he said.
Young also said the contract greatly enhanced his ability to fund charitable causes through his Forever Young Foundation and the 49ers Foundation.
"There's a lot of good things that can come from it," Young said.
Steinberg said about $2 million from Young's contract would go to charities over the next five years.
"Frankly, he's never been concerned about money," Steinberg said. "At no time during the negotiations did he so much as ask about it. All he's ever wanted is what he has now - and that's to start."
This training camp is Young's first as the 49ers' undisputed No. 1 quarterback. He spent four years as Montana's understudy.
Elbow problems forced Montana to miss all but one game in 1991 and 1992, and Young stepped in to lead the league in passing both seasons. Last year, he led San Francisco to a league-best 14-2 record and a playoff victory over Washington before Super Bowl champion Dallas defeated San Francisco 30-20 in the NFC championship.
Despite their sometimes frosty relations, Young said it felt strange to be in camp without Montana. He said his competition with Montana "brought out the best in me."
"It's going to feel funny to not have him here and it kind of worries me to know that he's prowling around in another camp," Young said.
Coach George Seifert said even with Montana's departure, he wasn't sure the controversy would die completely.
"There's always going to be pressure," he said. "It'll just come from a little different direction. But I think (Young) has demonstrated to all of us he's capable of leading this ball club and winning ball games."