Testaverde gets new deal $19 million contract aids Ravens' salary cap

March 09, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde agreed yesterday to terms of a new four-year contract worth $19 million, increasing the chance that the 10-year veteran will end his career in Baltimore.

Michael Azzarelli, Testaverde's agent, confirmed the Ravens had restructured the final three years of Testaverde's old contract to a new four-year deal that will pay him as much as $8 million over the next two seasons, including a $2.5 million signing bonus.

Testaverde, 33, will make $1.5 million in base salary for 1997, $4 million in 1998 ($1.5 million guaranteed), $5 million in 1999 and $6 million in 2000.

Testaverde's old contract would have paid him base salaries of $1.5 million for 1997, $5 million for 1998 and $6 million in 1999. The major differences in the contracts are the added year and the guaranteed total of $5.5 million through the 1998 season, including the signing bonus.

The Ravens will save nearly $1 million against the salary cap for both the 1998 and 1999 seasons.

According to league sources, Testaverde also has two incentive clauses that include $500,000 if the Ravens reach the AFC championship game, and another $500,000 if the team plays in a Super Bowl.

"I think Mr. Modell wanted to show his appreciation and loyalty to a dedicated employee who prepared extremely hard for every game and played his guts out despite a losing season," said Azzarelli, whose client will average $4.75 million per year if the full contract is honored. "The new contract is an incentive for both parties."

Modell said the new contract was not based solely on Testaverde's Pro Bowl season, when the former University of Miami quarterback put up career numbers of 4,177 passing yards (second in the NFL) and 33 touchdowns (second in the league to Brett Favre's 39 for the Green Bay Packers).

Modell said he has been impressed with Testaverde's perseverance since he signed with the Cleveland Browns as an unrestricted free agent from Tampa Bay on April 1, 1993.

Testaverde had to endure a number of obstacles in Cleveland. First he had to beat out and replace Cleveland fan favorite Bernie Kosar.

Then he was benched during the turmoil-filled 1995 season when the Browns were initially considered a Super Bowl contender, but instead ended up announcing they were going to Baltimore.

According to Modell, Testaverde's contract also was restructured several years ago for the team to recapture money to sign players. Testaverde's contract has been restructured every season since he has been with the Browns-Ravens, Azzarelli said.

"Actually, we're just making up for some lost time," Modell said. "We're presenting him with the opportunity to end it here in Baltimore if he wants to do so. Vinny doesn't say much, but he is a great family and company man. This past season was an astonishing episode to his career.

"Ever since those days in the swamp lands of Tampa Bay, he has improved," Modell said. "He took the abuse from the Bernie days like a real man and then survived the nonsensical benching two seasons ago by Bill Belichick [the Browns' former coach]. Once the move was announced, Vinny was one of the first to step forward and embrace the city."

Modell said Testaverde's new contract had no direct bearing on recent developments within the organization. During this off-season, the Ravens traded high priced veteran left offensive tackle Tony Jones to the Denver Broncos for a second-round pick and recently signed wide receiver Michael Jackson to a new three-year deal worth $8.4 million.

The Ravens also waived safety Eric Turner and his $3.9 million salary on Feb. 28 after negotiations to restructure broke off, and the team also failed to re-sign center Steve Everitt who agreed to a five-year deal worth $11.5 million with the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

Modell, though, admits the Testaverde deal sends a message. Neither Turner nor Everitt expressed a strong desire to return to Baltimore.

"There is very little sense of loyalty anymore," Modell said. "Take Desmond Howard. Green Bay takes a chance with him as a kick returner and he has a great year. He does well in the playoffs, then becomes the Super Bowl MVP and the next thing you know he is running for vice president. Then it's off to the Raiders.

"We want people who want to be here and that's important to our football team," Modell added. "Vinny wants to be here. Michael Jackson wanted to be here. They like Baltimore. They like football."

According to Modell, there is no risk in offering a four-year deal to a 33-year-old quarterback. Testaverde has not had major surgery and is one of the team's most fit players.

He is in a system with a coach, Ted Marchibroda, who has a history of developing quality quarterbacks such as Roman Gabriel, Bert Jones, Jim Kelly and Jim Harbaugh.

"Ted has a great reputation and it was enhanced by Vinny's performance this past season," Modell said. "Don Strock [quarterback coach] is in place to call our plays this year, so I see nothing but bright things for our offense."

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