There isn't a more telling scene in sports than an athlete's
cleaning out his locker, a ritual that signals a change inor
an end toa 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
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 selfa
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 passeshighest
among active quarterbacksis 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