Ravens owner Art Modell has given Vinny Testaverde and his agent permission to begin talking with other teams about working out an agreement for the quarterback to play elsewhere next season.
Testaverde, 34, has three years worth about $15 million left on his contract with the Ravens, but his status became questionable after the team traded for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh on Saturday. Harbaugh's contract has two years left at about $5.5 million.
Modell said there is practically no chance of Testaverde's being traded, because the Ravens would take a salary cap hit of $4.3 million for the 1998 season, but only $1.6 million for 1998 and the remainder of $2.7 million in 1999 if they waive Testaverde after June 1. The most likely scenario is for Testaverde to work out a deal that would become effective after the team waived him June 1.
"We have given him the go-ahead to test the waters, but he also has to get back to us before anything can be done," said Modell. "We would like to see Vinny continue his career, hopefully with us, but maybe if it has to be with someone else, we don't want to stand in the way. I can't, however, foresee a trade, because there is too much acceleration that would kill us. We've just gotten out of that situation."
The Ravens extended Testaverde's contract last off-season, but not necessarily because
they believed he was their quarterback of the future. Testaverde had redone his contract almost every year to allow the team to recoup money to sign free agents. The extended contract was a reward for past give-backs.
L "Vinny Testaverde has always been a class act," said Modell.
"It's unfortunate that this came about," said Mike Azzarelli, Testaverde's agent. "Hopefully, we can work out a solution that is mutually satisfying to both parties so that we can all get on with our lives and compete successfully."
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said he tried to speak with Testaverde on Saturday morning before the trade for Harbaugh was announced, but Testaverde was not at home.
Marchibroda spoke with both Testaverde and reserve quarterback Eric Zeier yesterday morning and told Testaverde that the Ravens quarterback position would be open for competition, but that Harbaugh had a slight advantage.
Testaverde said he didn't mind competing, but not against a stacked deck.
"Maybe that is his intention, but I don't see it that way," said Testaverde, speaking about the trade for the first time from his home outside Tampa, Fla. "If it's fair competition, then I don't mind competing because I've done that before, won, and believe I will prevail again. But if I'm going to come here, compete and have one foot in the grave, then what kind of competition is that?
"I told him I didn't want to be a backup, that I wanted a fair chance," said Testaverde. "I don't want to go into training camp knowing that they already have their minds made up and have told Jim it's his position to lose. Or if it doesn't work out with Jim Harbaugh, they put me in there. That's not a competitive situation."
Marchibroda didn't back away from his statement about Harbaugh having the edge.
"I told Vinny he is a Raven and still in the mix as of now until June rolls around when he knows a decision has to be made," Marchibroda said.
Testaverde said he will explore a number of options with Azzarelli. He was calm yesterday, taking a few minutes off from his workout to answer questions. He cracked a few jokes and seemed confident about his future.
But Testaverde, and a few other players who requested anonymity, said yesterday that they didn't like the way the Ravens handled Testaverde's demotion.
"We're having a team meeting sitting in a room one day watching ESPN, and then it comes on about Vinny possibly being replaced by Jim Kelly," said one player. "We're looking around wondering what is going on? Then you have to wonder: What is Vinny thinking after he heard it? It wasn't fair."
Another player said: "Bill Parcells doesn't like Neil O'Donnell, but you don't hear him cutting down O'Donnell in public. They could have made the change without so much fanfare."
Testaverde said: "Even when I was in Tampa Bay, they never showed me this type of disrespect. I played with injuries this season, and I know a quarterback gets the glory when his team wins and takes the blame for the losses. I'll take the blame, I wasn't as productive as in 1996 and I won't point fingers. But I've been in this league 11 years, five with the same organization. I think I deserve better. First they couldn't get Jim Kelly for whatever reasons, then they went out and got Jim Harbaugh. Maybe I should change my name to Jim."
Marchibroda said he doesn't know if the situation could have been handled differently.
"This all started when we asked Jim Kelly one simple question, whether he could play again, and that was it," Marchibroda said. "But we're in a business with a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of great quarterbacks have been benched. Jim Harbaugh had his best year when he was benched, and I think Vinny still has the ability to play well here. When I talked to Eric this morning, he said he was fine, happy with the system and ready to compete. As long as Vinny is a Raven, I'm glad to have him."
Pub Date: 2/17/98