Originally created 04/29/00

Niners open minicamp with questions about Young, Rice



SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Steve Young plans to meet with general manager Bill Walsh and coach Steve Mariucci within the next two weeks to discuss "what plans, if any" the San Francisco 49ers have for the return of the two-time MVP, his agent said Friday.

Young, 38, who led the 49ers to the 1994 Super Bowl title, hasn't played since a head blow during a Sept. 27 game at Arizona left him with his fourth concussion in three years and an uncertain football future.

Agent Leigh Steinberg said Young was excused weeks ago from the 49ers' three-day minicamp, which opened Friday, so he could keep a speech commitment at a charity function in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The 49ers said they asked Young, who still needs to be medically cleared to play, to take the time off because he doesn't need the work and the team's other quarterbacks do.

Jerry Rice, 37, whose future with the rebuilding team also remains unsettled, was in attendance, He said he remained hopeful he could end his career with the 49ers but also wouldn't rule out going elsewhere.

Rice, the NFL's career leader in touchdowns, receptions and yards receiving, has balked at the team's demands that he take a pay cut to help ease their salary cap problems.

In words and actions, the 49ers appear to be preparing for life without Young. They took two quarterbacks in the draft, retained Jeff Garcia, who filled in for the injured Young last season and plan to sign free agent Rick Mirer after June 1.

But Steinberg said Young, who just returned from a six-week, round-the-world honeymoon following his March 14 marriage to Barbara Graham, still wants to come back and play. And like Rice, he'd rather continue his career in San Francisco.

"Steve is strongly leaning towards playing and his desire is and has been to finish his career with the 49ers," Steinberg said. "We're going to be meeting with them in the next two weeks to explore if that's possible. Steve is is interested in hearing what plans, if any that they have for him."

Walsh and Mariucci have both suggested the team must be prepared to move on without Young and both have expressed reluctance at putting him back on the field because of his history of concussions.

"Steve is going to come in and visit with us and we're going to talk about things," Mariucci said. "We're just going to let that play itself out."

Steinberg said Young has received a positive medical report from a neurologist and an MRI showed no so-called "white spots" on his brain, which could be an indication of permanent damage.

"Steve is confident he could play two years of concussion-free football, though there's no way of predicting," Steinberg said. "Months have passed since that concussion. Doctors have said he's at no higher risk now for a concussion than any other NFL player."

Steinberg declined to discuss speculation that Young might move on to play for Denver or Seattle, saying it would be inappropriate to comment while Young remains under contract to the 49ers.

For both Rice and Young, June 1 is a crucial date. If one or both are released after that, much of the cap impact on the 49ers would be pushed back until next year.

"I don't know if we have a certain deadline in mind. I don't know if anything officially is going to happen until June 1," Mariucci said. "We may come to a decision on Steve prior to that."

Rice, the most productive receiver during San Francisco's disastrous 4-12 campaign a year ago, has been told he must take a pay cut in order to remain with the 49ers. He currently has the highest cap figure on the team: $5.49 million.

"Less money has never been a problem for me," Rice said. "It isn't about the money. It's about the respect and that's something I haven't always gotten around here. If it works out fine. If it doesn't, hey, life goes on."

While Rice remains hopeful a deal with the 49ers will be worked out to the satisfaction of both sides, he said he has no plans to retire.

"I still love the game. The fire's still burning," Rice said. "So if it doesn't work out, then I'll have to shop around."