Teams again get pass at Dilfer

As NFL free agency opens, QB in demand

March 01, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

He was exiled from Tampa, banished in Baltimore, put on hold in Seattle.

Trent Dilfer knows rejection.

He also knows vindication.

A Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Ravens a year ago, Dilfer has seemingly outlasted his detractors. All it took was 15 straight wins with two different teams.

With the free-agent market formally kicking in this morning, Dilfer will become one of the fascinating curiosities in the NFL's annual rite of player passage.

No fewer than five teams in need of a starting quarterback - the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans - are expected to take a look at him.

While all quarterback lines this off-season start behind New England's Drew Bledsoe, it won't take long before most teams slide over to Dilfer.

Bledsoe, the first pick in the 1993 draft, is available because of Tom Brady, who quarterbacked the Patriots to a victory in the 36th Super Bowl last month. Unlike Dilfer, though, Bledsoe is not an unrestricted free agent. To get him, some team is probably going to surrender a first-round draft choice or more.

And in case that price proves to be prohibitive, Dilfer's agent, Mike Sullivan, has armed himself with a persuasive argument about which quarterback has been more productive the past three years.

Sullivan is the director of football at Octagon, a sports agency in Walnut Creek, Calif. He compiled an extensive study of the statistics of Dilfer and Bledsoe over their past 20 starts.

Why 20 starts? Because that goes back to Dilfer's final four starts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999, all of which he won. In fact, since Dilfer returned to the Bucs' lineup late in the 1999 season because of injury after being benched, he has won 19 of 20 starts.

By comparison, Bledsoe has won six of his past 20 starts.

Dilfer comes off surprisingly well in the study. He has thrown six more touchdown passes (26) than Bledsoe in 167 fewer passes over the 20-start span, completing roughly the same percentage of throws. He averaged 7.50 yards a pass attempt to Bledsoe's 6.07, and 12.93 yards a completion to Bledsoe's 10.34.

Collectively, the numbers paint a more compelling picture, and it has little to do with Bledsoe.

The picture routs the image of Dilfer that was created over six years in Tampa. There, he was perceived as a strong-armed quarterback who would always make the critical mistake that lost the game.

His won-loss record as well as his passing statistics refute that.

But the numbers that Sullivan came up with also show that in four starts for the Seahawks this season, Dilfer's success formula put an emphasis on first-half passing and second-half running.

Dilfer, playing behind starter Matt Hasselbeck, threw for 608 of his 844 passing yards in the first half of his four starts. Seattle's first-half rushing total, minus Dilfer's own rushing numbers, is 206. And the Seahawks outscored their opponents 73-39 in those first halves.

That, Sullivan suggests, refutes the notion that the running game was more of a factor in Dilfer's success.

Which sets of numbers might persuade a team to sign Dilfer is uncertain. But it does appear likely that Dilfer will get a multiyear contract worth at least $3 million a year.

Money, however, won't sway Dilfer, Sullivan said.

"The only thing that matters to Trent is being a full-time starter," he said. "There is no other criteria that touches that."

Dilfer turns 30 in two weeks. Bledsoe is a month older. Dilfer, the sixth pick in the 1994 draft, is an eight-year veteran and Bledsoe a nine-year vet.

Other quarterbacks in the free-agent mix this off-season are the Bears' Jim Miller, Atlanta's Chris Chandler, Buffalo's Rob Johnson, Denver's Gus Frerotte, and Washington's Tony Banks. Jeff Blake of the New Orleans Saints is yet another quarterback available through trade.

Already this off-season, the market has begun to establish itself. The Miami Dolphins re-signed quarterback Jay Fiedler to a five-year, $24.5 million deal with a $4.9 million signing bonus.

Which team makes the most sense for Dilfer? Chicago's general manager is Jerry Angelo, who worked in Tampa Bay during Dilfer's era. The Bengals attempted last season to engage Dilfer without success. They're looking again this year, and they've got a significantly better team this time.

The Redskins offer the allure of offensive wizard Steve Spurrier.

Then there's a chance Dilfer could return to Seattle and coach Mike Holmgren. The Seahawks don't believe Dilfer will find much of a market in free agency.

And that's what makes Dilfer such a curiosity this off-season.

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