It's true that Dilfer won ugly in 2000. To his credit, he threw only one interception in four playoff games, and during his last nine regular-season and playoff starts the Ravens trailed only twice after halftime, for a total of eight minutes. But Dilfer's 47.9% rate of completion in the postseason, lack of mobility and occasional awkwardness led to his banishment from Baltimore. Those deficiencies, which also were a problem in Tampa, killed Dilfer with other teams too. "We don't mean any disrespect to Trent—though I think he sees it that way—but we saw a couple of quarterbacks who we felt would give us a better chance to win consistently," Cavanaugh says. "Our offense wasn't as explosive as it had been the previous year, and Trent's completion percentage for the last four games put a lot of strain on our defense and special teams. I think Elvis is a naturally better thrower."
Grbac may be a better passer, but is he a better leader? Dilfer was more popular in the Baltimore locker room than two-way pagers. In the week leading to the Super Bowl, numerous Ravens told Dilfer how much they appreciated the sacrifices he had made to help them win. Says Baltimore defensive end Rob Burnett, "Did most of us want Trent back? Absolutely. In addition to being a winning quarterback, he's a first-class person who touched a lot of people in that locker room. But having been in this business for so long, nothing shocks me. Teams always covet what they don't have."
The question is, Will any organization covet Dilfer? Concerns about accuracy and mobility particularly hurt his stock with coaches who run variations of the West Coast offense, though the Panthers remain a possibility. A better fit might be the Redskins and new coach Marty Schottenheimer, who favors a ball-control attack; incumbent starter Jeff George may prove too much of a risk taker for Schottenheimer's taste, and Dilfer would be a plausible insurance policy. " Trent's a guy who can manage the game and give his team a chance, and he's a leader who might win that team over," says another AFC personnel man. "That's what will appeal to a guy like Marty. He'll try to manage Dilfer the way he did Steve DeBerg in the late '80s and early '90s."
Whether or not he ends up less than an hour's drive down the parkway from Baltimore, Dilfer promises he'll land on his feet. " Trent has never been happier," insists Michael Sullivan, Dilfer's agent. "We're talking about someone who has made more than $25 million in the NFL, and he has won a Super Bowl ring. He's just looking for a quality experience, and while he's surprised there haven't been more opportunities so far, he's not the least bit concerned about the future."
In the meantime Dilfer is hanging out in Fresno, where on Feb. 3 he was honored with a parade and given a key to the city. And when the taped telecast of the Quarterback Challenge airs on CBS in July, viewers will watch Dilfer beat out such highly regarded pure passers as the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning and the Buffalo Bills' Rob Johnson. While recounting the competition last Saturday night, Dilfer, often criticized for his inability to throw deep, laughed about having won the long-ball portion of the competition with a 72-yard heave.
Shortly before hanging up, Dilfer added, "Look, I play to win-period. That is my job."
Now, if only he could get one.