Steve Young is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. Spending 13 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, he is among the top players in the franchise’s history. What most people don’t know about the Hall of Fame quarterback is that his first contract in professional football wasn’t with the NFL.
In 1984, Young was persuaded to forgo the NFL draft to play in the newly formed United States Football League (USFL). New to professional sports, the inexperienced quarterback got conned into signing a 40-year contract. What could have been devastating to his career, worked out in the end, but he certainly has a crazy story to share about his early beginnings in the league.
Steve Young’s career
After spending two years in the USFL, the rookie from Brigham Young became part of the NFL and started playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Young was then traded in 1987 to the San Francisco 49ers. In 1991, he became their starting quarterback, after Joe Montana suffered a season-ending injury.
Young went on to win three Super Bowl championships, breaking countless passing records. The two-time MVP threw his last pass in 1999.
Promises of a huge contract
Young was poised to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft. The Cincinnati Bengals were offering him a $3.5 million contract, but Young didn’t want to play for them because the money wasn’t guaranteed. He would have gotten a $1 million signing bonus and $500,000 per year under a five-year contract.
At the same time, the USFL put an enticing offer on the table that sounded too good to be true. Lured by the promise of a huge contract, Young passed on the Bengals deal, accepting the USFL offer, where he played for the next two years.
Steve Young’s USFL deal
Billionaire J. William Oldenberg was the owner of the USFL team, LA Express. He promised Young a four-year contract valued at $40 million, paid over the span of 43 years.
Unfortunately, Oldenberg was lying about his net worth and eventually had to forfeit the team. According to CBS Sports,
“Under the USFL contract, Young received $4 million up front and base salaries of $200,000, $280,000, $330,000, and $400,000 for the four-year duration of the deal. Once the contract expired, Young would have no further obligation to the team, but the Express would pay him the final $30 million over 37 years, from when Young turned 28 until he turns 65.”
The seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback is technically still due money from the USFL until the year 2027 when he turns 65 years old. If the contract was still in effect, he would be receiving a check for $3.173 million when he reaches the official retirement age. Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out.
What happened to the 40-year contract?
In 1986, when the ink was still fresh on the deal, the USFL collapsed and filed for bankruptcy. Young’s contract was set up as an annuity, with his first $1 million check scheduled to come to him in 2014. The problem was that the current NFL analyst never funded the annuity.
He told ESPN in the interview above, “The owner was so crazy, it had to stay in his name for 45 years, so they gave me the option to take the money, which I think was $1 million bucks or $900,000 to fund the annuity — either take that money or fund the annuity — I just took the money.”
It worked out in the end, and when all was said and done Young walked away with $4.8 million from the USFL fiasco.