Testaverde is gone, but bad taste lingers

June 19, 1998|By John Eisenberg

He was at the peak of his career last summer, coming off a Pro Bowl season with a new contract extension in his pocket.

A year later, Vinny Testaverde is out of a job. Cut by the Ravens earlier this month, he is still unsigned, with NFL training camps set to open in mid-July.

Did the Ravens mistreat him? That's a question still lingering in the air at the team's training facility, even though Testaverde is gone.

As usual with the Ravens, even the simplest-sounding question has a complicated answer.

In one sense -- the football sense -- they didn't mistreat him. They just decided he wasn't the right quarterback for them. It was an understandable decision, not an unfair one.

But in another sense -- being decent and respectful to a loyal veteran -- they didn't do right by him at all.

Testaverde, 34, will always feel he lost his job unfairly last season. He suffered a minor knee injury in late November and never threw another pass; coach Ted Marchibroda started Eric Zeier in the last three games, and Jim Harbaugh was obtained in a trade in February, leaving Testaverde without a job.

It was a hard, fast fall from the Pro Bowl, but you can't blame the Ravens. Testaverde had a long record of losing. He was a good guy, but not a strong leader. He was shaky in the clutch, to say the least.

He might have had a legitimate beef about losing his job if the Ravens had never given him a chance, but he had a long audition here and in Cleveland. He had a chance to show what he could do.

Too much of a chance, really.

By late last fall, his teammates no longer believed in his late-game abilities and the fans had turned on him. With a new stadium opening and permanent seat licenses to sell, the Ravens needed a change at quarterback. Testaverde's time was up.

There was nothing wrong or unfair about that decision. Nothing wrong with a divorce.

How the Ravens handled that divorce was more of a problem.

Testaverde deserved a fond farewell with a handshake. He was a stand-up guy who played hurt and worked hard, a team player who restructured his contract to provide more room under the salary cap. Whatever his faults were as a quarterback, he was a pro's pro.

The Ravens let him dangle, even when it became obvious after Harbaugh's arrival that he had no future here.

They weren't happy that he had complained publicly about losing his job. And owner Art Modell apparently had big problems with Testaverde's agent, Michael Azzarelli.

But the Ravens should have been bigger than that.

Testaverde deserved a classier departure. This is a guy who made countless appearances for the franchise when it was moving from Cleveland and a nationwide target for scorn.

How soon they forget.

As it happened, the Ravens never told him he would get cut after the June 1 deadline, even though the whole world knew it, particularly after Zeier was re-signed in March.

Instead, the team sent Testaverde a stream of mixed messages.

"Vinny has a role to play for the rest of the [1997] season, hopefully next year and for several more to come," Modell said last December.

He was never told the team was going to go out and look for a replacement.

Never told the team was negotiating with former Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly.

But he was told he could

compete for a job in training camp.

Huh?

Testaverde deserved full disclosure, at the very least. There's no law saying a team has to clear what it's doing with a quarterback on the way out, but Testaverde deserved to know the skinny. After all, he was going to have to find a new job.

Then, in the worst slight of all, the Ravens didn't cut him on the June 1 deadline, when most other veterans on other teams were cut.

Knowing full well that Testaverde was gone, and that he couldn't start getting a new job until he was cut, the Ravens held on to him for an extra day just to, well, you can do the math. Modell and Azzarelli were bickering. It had gotten personal. Blah, blah, blah.

Several sources said the league forced the Ravens to cut him the next day. The Ravens deny that happened.

In any case, it was an ugly divorce, full of spite and spittle.

Maybe it could not have been avoided, given that Testaverde believed he was wronged last year.

But it probably could have been avoided -- the ugliness, not the divorce itself -- if the Ravens had leveled with Testaverde all along.

Now he is talking to several teams, including the Bengals, about a job. He could wind up playing at Camden Yards after all next season, as an opponent.

The Ravens made the right call in jettisoning him. They don't think he can win. They're probably right.

But they should have shown him more respect as they unloaded him. He had earned that much.

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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