When Steve Young joined the United States Football League as quarterback for the Los Angeles Express two years ago, he became the highest-salaried player in the game, league sources said at the time.
Friday, the USFL confirmed it.
Young was paid $2.4 million for each of his first two seasons as a pro, USFL Commissioner Harry Usher told The Times.
According to Usher, the $4.8 million Young received in 1984-85 represents most of what he is due under the terms of a four-year, $5.8-million contract that extends through 1987.
“We’re talking about cold, hard cash,” Usher said. “This isn’t deferred money. This isn’t promises. It’s been paid. The $4.8 million is the amount Steve has actually received (from USFL owners). And he got it within a period of 15 or 16 months.”
No other American football or baseball player outgained the Express quarterback financially in that span. Baseball’s three highest-paid performers, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield, will each earn about $2.1 million this year.
Young was unavailable for comment. In Greenwich, Conn., his parents said he was sailing on Lake Tahoe with tight end Gordon Hudson, his teammate both at Brigham Young and with the Express.
Usher said he decided to speak out because of recent remarks attributed to Young and his agent, Leigh Steinberg, criticizing the USFL.
Reportedly, Steinberg said the USFL is asking a “king’s ransom” to release Young from the last two years of his Express contract.
In Florida, where Young has been negotiating with the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Usher’s buy-out price for Young is believed to be $2 million.
“I’m not going to get into the numbers, but that’s a good guess,” Usher said.
Most of the other players who have bought out their USFL contracts paid $50,000 to $100,000.
“But they aren’t Steve Young,” said Usher, who was stung by the “king’s ransom” quote. “We put $4.8 million in this young man’s pocket, and that’s a considerable investment. I gave him permission to talk to the Buccaneers, sure, but I don’t want him out (of the USFL). I want him as a leader in this league next year with Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Kelvin Bryant, Anthony Carter and our other great players.”
At the same time, the Buccaneers want him as a successor to Steve DeBerg.
“Young is probably the future of our franchise,” Rick Odioso, a Tampa Bay spokesman, said. “DeBerg is our quarterback this year, but Young impressed us when he worked out here.”
Steinberg could not be reached. He is traveling in the Midwest and apparently didn’t get a message at a Green Bay motel.
Usher said: “They (Young and Steinberg) won’t dispute the numbers. There is no dispute on the numbers.”
Usher said that Young’s $4.8 million includes his $2.5-million signing bonus plus a $1.4-million settlement on an annuity, in addition to salary and other payments.
His base salary for the rest of the contract will exceed $450,000 annually, Usher said.
Young became America’s first potential $40-million athlete in 1984 when he signed his celebrated long-term contract with the man who then owned the Express, Bill Oldenburg.
Most of the money, however, was in deferred payments lasting into the 21st Century and financed by an annuity.
By mutual agreement, Usher said, Young and the USFL settled the annuity for $1.4 million in cash.
Still searching for an owner for the Express, Usher said he had to let team President Don Klosterman go for financial reasons, not personal or professional ones.
“I don’t have any money,” he said.
Klosterman is suing to recover his $250,000 salary on a contract that Usher was asked about.
“The contract is with Oldenburg,” Usher said. “If (Klosterman) has a cause of action, it’s with him.”
The league operated the Express last season, and, said Usher, he has already asked the other owners to put up $6.5 million to save Los Angeles for the USFL.
“Or $8.5 million altogether, including $2 million for Steve Young,” he said.
What disappoints the USFL’s well-heeled owners the most, Usher said, isn’t the millions they’ve paid Young, but his attitude.
“I wish he had the same venturesome pride in the USFL that Herschel (Walker) and Jim (Kelly) have shown,” Usher said. “I like Steve personally, and at this stage (of the season), I’m sure there isn’t time for him to come out blazing in the NFL.
“We have a good shot at an L.A. franchise (in the San Fernando Valley) next year. It would help if he’d show Herschel’s enthusiasm.”
If the USFL can find an owner here, it will expand an existing San Fernando Valley stadium to 35,000 or 40,000, Usher said, in time for the 1986 fall season.
Nine other teams are already set, he said, naming New Jersey, which has merged with Houston; Baltimore, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Birmingham, Memphis, Phoenix and Oakland, with Denver either moving or merging.
“We still believe in the USFL,” Usher said. “We’re still intrigued by the challenge.”