TAMPA, Fla. -- The vexing career of enigmatic Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Vinny Testaverde continues to spiral downward.
He is now nothing more than a $1.3 million, third-stringer likely to be inactive Sunday when the Bucs play the Green Bay Packers at Tampa Stadium in a matchup of the NFC's poorest teams.
"I'm third-string again?" he said yesterday. "I certainly didn't expect to have the same role I had last week."
Coach Richard Williamson became upset when told of Testaverde's remarks as he departed the practice field for his office. "If he wants to play, then he should be out here practicing," the coach said.
Testaverde pronounced himself ready to play after sustaining a slightly fractured right thumb and was unaware of his playing status until reporters in the locker room told him.
That prompted a discussion in which the fifth-year player openly professed uncertainty about his role with the team for the remainder of the year and his future beyond this season. Furthermore, Testaverde said he is uncomfortable playing on the same team as Chris Chandler and predicted one of them will be traded.
If it is Testaverde who is traded, then the Bucs are lowering his value on the trade market by making him the third-stringer. Testaverde ranks last in the league in touchdown passes with two.
Two is also the number of starting quarterbacks the Bucs have used this season, regularly alternating between Testaverde and Chandler.
"It's not healthy for the team," Testaverde said. "It's putting a lot of strain on the team -- certainly on both me and Chris. I don't know if it's dividing the team. I don't think it's healthy for any team. I only think bad things can come of it."
The bad thing that came of it this week for Testaverde is Williamson's decision to provide Chandler his first home start Sunday, with Jeff Carlson the apparent backup. The Bucs are winless in five starts under Chandler and 0-8 without Testaverde the past three seasons.
Williamson has vacillated in explaining the de
cision, citing Testaverde's injury and Chandler's performance. But Testaverde refuses to believe his thumb injury is at all responsible.
"Do you?" he said.
Instead, Testaverde seems to think the situation indicate Williamson has lost confidence in him.
Clearly the relationship between Testaverde and Williamson has been dramatically altered. Williamson tried to design his offense around the former Heisman Trophy winner and top overall pick in the 1987 draft. He hired a low-key quarterback coach, Morris Watts, to develop him and improve his self-esteem.
Williamson figured broadening Testaverde's role and giving him more experience would improve his play and bring out leadership qualities. Now Williamson says, "I don't think we have any leadership on offense right now. I'd like to see one person step forward and be a leader."
Testaverde will not say that he prefers to be traded or that he would refuse to spend next season playing for Williamson.
"I would have liked for it to be handled differently," Testaverde said.