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INSIDE THE NFL

A Raven Nevermore

Vinny Testaverde is out of a job, his Pro Bowl year a mere memory

by David Fleming

Posted: Wed June 10, 1998

 
Sports Illustrated There isn't a more telling scene in sports than an athlete's cleaning out his locker, a ritual that signals a change in—or an end to—a career. Last month it was 34-year-old Vinny Testaverde who sat, alone and quiet, emptying his locker inside the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills, Md. The veteran quarterback, who wasn't officially cut until June 2, must have been thinking about how quickly his fortunes had turned in Baltimore.

Vinny Testaverde
Testaverde would settle for being a backup on a playoff contender.    (John W. McDonough)

A little more than a year ago Testaverde was still basking in the glow of his first Pro Bowl appearance, after finishing the 1996 season with career highs in yards passing (4,177) and touchdowns (33). But last year he was back to his old self—a guy with a cannon arm whose decision-making and leadership skills were often lacking. With just 2,971 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions through 13 games, Testaverde was benched in favor of Eric Zeier. Then on Feb. 14, the Ravens acquired Jim Harbaugh from the Colts for a couple of draft picks.

Even before Harbaugh's arrival Testaverde knew his days in Baltimore were numbered. But he wasn't ready to pack it in. "This has been tough," he said. "I thought I was in a good situation, but they made a decision, and there's nothing I can do about it."

Teams wait until after June 1 to cut some players because they can spread prorated signing bonuses over the next two years. By waiting to cut Testaverde, who was due to make $12 million in base salary over the next three seasons, the Ravens were able to move $2.7 million of his signing bonus to the '99 cap.

Given their shaky quarterback situations, the Bears, Panthers and Saints are at the top of Testaverde's wish list. Testaverde would consider a backup role on a playoff contender, but he prefers to start and says he is willing to wait until late summer to sign on the chance some team might come up needy. He also wants a one-year contract, to leave his options open in '99, a factor that stalled initial talks with one team last week. "I want a good situation," he says. "Not something I'm forced into taking."

This all sounds a tad demanding for someone who has produced one winning season in 11. But after six years and 67 losses in Tampa and five years marred by franchise upheaval with Cleveland-Baltimore, he's had his fill of long-term commitments. Testaverde's supporters say bad teams, and not his career interception ratio of 4.4 picks for every 100 passes—highest among active quarterbacks—is to blame for his record.

"Vinny is a victim of the teams he has played for," says one AFC coach. "He started with a horrible team in Tampa, and he just couldn't shake that."

Issue date: June 15, 1998

 
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Huizenga's Favorite Fish

Good News, Bad News

 
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