With a smile on his face and a little jealousy in his heart, San Francisco 49ers' All-Pro wide receiver Jerry Rice reported to training camp Saturday and made it clear he wants his three-year, $7.8 million contract renegotiated in light of the record $26.750 million deal Steve Young signed on Thursday.
"I have a bad taste in my mouth, I really do," Rice said of Young's contract, the richest in NFL history. "Last year when my contract was up, it was like, `We don't have any more money.' They found some somewhere."People focus in on the quarterback, say this is the key guy. I feel I play just as important a role as a quarterback. Why can't I be paid like a quarterback?"
When Rice signed his contract last year, it allowed for a reopening of discussion should he drop below his status as the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league. He has since been passed by Reggie White's four-year, $17.1 million deal with Green Bay.
"It's in the clause," Rice said. "We're going to follow up. That's one reason we signed it. We've been talking. We're going to continue to talk. If everything goes right, I'll be happy and the 49ers will be happy. We're trying to work on something this year. I don't want it to go on into the season. It can be a distraction. I want to get it done."
Forty Niners president Carmen Policy was not available for comment Saturday evening. Rice said his agent, Jim Steiner of St. Louis, last spoke with the 49ers on Monday. Rice began his campaign for a new contract with an oblique reference to Young's megadeal.
"I heard someone here won the Lotto," he said. "One of us."
As training camp began at Sierra College, Rice said he will not be a happy camper unless his contract is redone. He said he would like to have a four or five-year extension.
"Don't get me wrong - I'm not planning on going anywhere. I would love to stay here the rest of my career. At times you have to make decisions, big decisions."
At the very least, Rice will be with the 49ers the next two seasons. His contract contains a completion bonus that will pay him 25 percent of the total value of the deal, or $1.95 million, after the 1994 season.
At the heart of Rice's discontent is his belief that he is just as valuable to the 49ers as Young, while allowing for the built-in discrepancy in the salaries of quarterbacks and wide receivers.
"I should have been a quarterback," he said. "Steve Young is a great quarterback. He deserves to be paid well. I also feel I should deserve the same thing. I'm not a quarterback but I'm a very important part of this team. I've been here eight years and I've been productive. If everything goes right, I'll be happy and the 49ers will be happy."
Catching touchdown passes and cashing paychecks makes Rice happy. He said his personal goal for the season is to better Jim Brown's NFL record of 126 touchdowns, established in nine years. This is Rice's ninth year in the league. He has 108 touchdowns, including five rushing.
Rice, who continually tries to balance a desire to be lean and swift with the need for strength and bulk, said he weighs 196 pounds, up from 189 last year. He said he can bench press 300 pounds for the first time in his life. To call attention to his new muscle mass, he got a tattoo of a football helmet inscribed with the number 80 on his right biceps.
"My wife talked me into it," he said. "It was painful."