Posted: Thursday March 10, 2005 1:47PM; Updated: Friday March 11, 2005 1:57PM
The Seahawks traded Trent Dilfer to the Browns for a fourth-round draft pick.
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Ever since he was the big man on campus at Fresno State University, a cocky quarterback who changed his ways while trying to win the affections of an attractive swimmer, Trent Dilfer has been on a quest for self-improvement. More than most NFL players, Dilfer measures each day by what he has done to make things better -- for his family, his friends, those who share his spiritual beliefs and, not insignificantly, his team.
Dilfer is one of those pro athletes destined to be kicked around in public, a man whose very name evokes images of awkwardness and struggle. Yet among those people who truly understand football, and the elements that go into creating a winning atmosphere in an enigmatic league, Dilfer's contributions are more appreciated than you might imagine.
That's why it was such a pleasant surprise when, last weekend, Dilfer's desire to be better neatly coincided with that of a franchise in position to improve his reality. On Tuesday, after having traded a fourth-round draft pick to acquire the veteran quarterback from the Seattle Seahawks, the Cleveland Browns signed Dilfer to a four-year contract extension that included a $2.1 million signing bonus -- a clear signal that the new regime of general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel regards him as the man to lead this woebegone franchise back to respectability.
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"I know the deal -- I've got to play my ass off," Dilfer said via the wonder of cellular technology Wednesday night. "My attitude is, Who cares what people say about me? This isn't about going out and converting the half of the football community that thinks I'm a dog. I believe deep down, more than I've ever believed it, that I can really, really play well, especially in this type of situation: an old-school offense, cold weather, and a team that won't be afraid to throw the ball downfield."
If that sounded like a dig on Dilfer's former team -- well, we'll get to that in a minute. For now, the important thing to understand is that Dilfer, who turns 33 on Sunday, believes his 55.2 career completion percentage measures his worth about as accurately as the number of hairs on his head.
"All these cheesy completions the West Coast guys get that prop up their stats -- I just refuse to buy into that," Dilfer continued. "And I think my winning track record shows that I'm right. Does completion percentage win games? Or does it come down to third-down conversion percentage, making big plays, managing the running game and coming through when the game is on the line?
"Ultimately, this is the type of situation where I can play my best football and inspire the people around me. Don't tell me that what the San Diego Chargers did last year -- or what the Rams did in 1999 -- two teams won't do next year. And we could definitely be one of those teams."
Oddly enough, Dilfer's departure might actually improve two teams. Though the Seahawks, even after signing starter Matt Hasselbeck to a six-year, $49.4-million contract last month, absolutely wanted Dilfer to return as a backup, he believes his relocation will enhance his close friend Hasselbeck's reality.
Last season was a tumultuous one in Seattle, where lofty preseason predictions and a quick start inspired Super Bowl fever among the masses. Instead, Seahawks fans saw a team plagued by dropped passes and internal dissension that slopped into an NFC West title before losing its wild-card-round playoff game to the Rams -- an embarrassing home defeat that ended, appropriately, with Bobby Engram failing to hold onto a fourth-down pass in the end zone, and Hasselbeck pounding the turf in frustration.