In QB change, Ravens get better of Jets

Ken Rosenthal

July 17, 1998

One is a fearless leader. The other is a career loser.

Which quarterback do you think Bill Parcells preferred?

The answer had to be Jim Harbaugh, but after failing to bully Neil O'Donnell into a pay cut, Parcells was left with Vinny Testaverde.

Only time will tell if he regrets the move, but one thing is clear from this game of musical quarterbacks: The Ravens were proactive, and Parcells was not.

"Bill Parcells was pretty open in his assessment that he really liked Jim, that he had some interest in Jim," said Harbaugh's agent, Leigh Steinberg. "Baltimore jumped in and moved very, very decisively."

Ozzie Newsome, Ravens vice president of player personnel, said he wanted only to resolve his No. 1 need, and did not act out of fear that another team might acquire Harbaugh.

Parcells said he did not try to obtain another quarterback, but if his intent was to force out O'Donnell, he should have attempted to execute the same plan as the Ravens, trading for Harbaugh and releasing his incumbent after June 1.

The Indianapolis Colts might not have traded within their own division, and the Jets didn't want to lose a third-round pick on top of the second-rounder they forfeited in the Parcells settlement with New England.

But now Parcells is left with the injury-prone Glenn Foley, who never has started and finished a Jets victory, and Testaverde, who is as fragile mentally as Foley is physically.

Harbaugh isn't as physically gifted as Testaverde. His durability is in question. His performance at minicamp was unimpressive. Still, the Ravens believe that his toughness and confidence will make them a better team.

Newsome said that he and coach Ted Marchibroda first expressed interest in Harbaugh in early February, during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Marchibroda had coached Harbaugh with the Colts, and he asked Indianapolis GM Bill Polian for permission to meet the quarterback for dinner. Polian, who had worked with Marchibroda in Buffalo, approved.

The dinner never came off -- Harbaugh was home in Orlando, Fla. -- but a week later Newsome got Polian on the phone, and the two completed a trade within three days.

"What was unspoken is that Ozzie wanted to get in and get it done before the market heated up," Polian said. "From his perspective, it was a very wise move. It showed sagacity on his part."

Newsome said that the Ravens didn't actually move all that quickly -- they had spent weeks debating whether to sign Jim Kelly or acquire Harbaugh.

During that time, Newsome spoke with Steinberg about Harbaugh and two of his other clients, Jacksonville's Rob Johnson and Washington State's Ryan Leaf.

The Jaguars sent Johnson to Buffalo the day before the Ravens landed Harbaugh -- "We were in their division. We knew it would be a tough trade," Newsome said. The San Diego Chargers took Leaf with the second pick of the draft.

Steinberg is the Bill Gates of the NFL, an agent with almost monopolistic control of the league's quarterbacks and unusual power.

He had both Foley and O'Donnell with the Jets, negotiating an extension for one while refusing to renegotiate for the other.

And he initially believed that Harbaugh would land with Buffalo, saying the Bills "coveted him very much."

Polian, however, said he heard only "nibbling" from the Bills. Buffalo GM John Butler doubted that he could pry Harbaugh from an AFC East opponent.

"That's very tough to do," Butler said. "I've always been an admirer of [Harbaugh]. Having played against him, I know what a competitor he is. I don't know if it ever would have come about."

So, the Bills traded with the AFC Central and the Ravens traded with the AFC East. The Colts prepared to draft Peyton Manning. And Parcells spent nearly the entire off-season trying to win his test of wills with O'Donnell.

The former Maryland star could have remained with the Jets by accepting a pay cut from $4.25 million to $2 million. But how could Parcells have expected him to stay when their relationship had deteriorated so badly?

Parcells humiliated the veteran quarterback last season by allowing second-year man Ray Lucas and rookie halfback Leon Johnson to throw passes in a game that cost the Jets a playoff berth.

And he further antagonized him by proposing such a large pay cut, indicating to O'Donnell that he probably had no chance of starting over the unproven Foley.

What was his plan?

Parcells was unavailable to comment.

He probably thinks that Testaverde can succeed in a ball-control offense. His defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, coached Testaverde in Cleveland, and the Browns knocked Parcells' Patriots out of the playoffs in '94.

Parcells also saw Testaverde drive the Ravens 80 yards with no timeouts for the tying touchdown in the Jets' overtime victory over the Ravens last season. Of course, Testaverde threw an interception from his knees in the same game.

In the end, Parcells could have lost Testaverde, too, to either Cincinnati -- O'Donnell's eventual destination -- or Seattle.

Again, only time will tell if he acted wisely.

Harbaugh will earn $2.5 million to Testaverde's $1.5 million, and he also cost the Ravens a third-round pick. Testaverde, however, is expected to back up Foley. Steinberg said that Harbaugh could have been the starter.

"Bill likes Glenn Foley a lot, but he's not sure if he's going to stay healthy," Steinberg said. "I believe if they had gotten Jim, it would have been for the starting job."

Who could have predicted it?

The Ravens got their man.

Parcells got stuck with Vinny Testaverde.

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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