Niners, Rice Reach Long-Term Deal
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) _ Jerry Rice, the NFL’s career leader in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yardage, now has security, peace of mind and a heftier contract to go with the lofty numbers he’s put up on the field.
The seven-year pact, worth $32 million, runs through 2002 and replaces a contract due to expire following the 1997 season. The deal included a $4 million signing bonus.
Rice said coming to terms on the new deal frees him to concentrate on football.
``I don’t have to worry about my contract any more. That’s behind me,″ Rice said during a news conference. ``This is the position I wanted to be in a long time ago. Now it’s just football.″
Asked how much longer he plans to play, Rice said, ``My goal is to finish this contract.″
Club president Carmen Policy said the contract was designed to keep Rice in a 49ers uniform for the rest of his career. San Francisco has seen such superstars as Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott finish their careers elsewhere and Policy said the organization didn’t want to see that happen with Rice.
``I made it perfectly clear to Jerry and Jim Steiner (Rice’s agent) that we did not want to even run the risk of having Jerry even consider the possibility of the free agent market,″ Policy said. ``Whatever happened in the past, whatever the circumstances may have been, however difficult the situation may have developed, we weren’t going to allow that to happen with Jerry.″
Rice said he wanted the same thing.
``I can’t see myself going anywhere else and putting on a different uniform, and trying to start all over again,″ he said.
Steiner said the new deal makes Rice one of the top 10-12 paid players in the league.
The 49ers cleared room under the salary cap by reworking the contracts of linebacker Lee Woodall and cornerback Marquez Pope.
Meanwhile, the 49ers stepped up efforts to extend the contract of two-time Pro Bowl free safety Merton Hanks, scheduled to be paid $700,000 this season. Hanks’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, met with Policy for four hours earlier Wednesday. Policy described the discussions as positive but no agreement was imminent.
The organization began talking to Rice’s agent about a new deal following last season.
Talks continued through the offseason and then quieted while Rice attended to his ailing wife, Jackie, who nearly died of complications following the birth of the couple’s third child, Jada, in February.
Rice missed the first two weeks of training camp while his wife continued her recuperation. The final details of the contract were worked out Tuesday by Steiner and Policy at team headquarters.
Rice, who turns 34 in October, is coming off a record-breaking season in which he caught 122 passes for an NFL-record 1,848 yards. He enters 1996 with career records for most touchdowns (156), most TD receptions (146) most receiving yards (15,123), most past receptions (942) and most 100-yard receving games (58) among others.
Rice said the money won’t change the way he plays the game.
``I don’t think my play is going to decrease,″ he said. ``If anything I think it’s going to get better.″