No resolution for Testaverde QB says meeting with Modell leaves 'unresolved issues'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde met with owner Art Modell yesterday for nearly an hour to discuss his recent benching, and left the meeting with his status for the 1998 season undetermined.

Testaverde, 34, has three years left on a contract that will pay him $4 million in 1998 ($1.5 million guaranteed), $5 million in 1999 and $6 million in 2000.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda benched Testaverde on Wednesday in favor of third-year player Eric Zeier, who sparked the team to a 31-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, throwing for 302 yards and a touchdown.

It was the team's first victory in its past six games.

"There are still some unresolved issues here," Testaverde said. "I'm very disappointed in the way things have taken place the last couple of weeks. I believe I should be in there playing. If I'm not going to be the starting quarterback in the future, then come out and say it.

"I wanted to know my future with the team so that I can approach next season in the right frame of mind," he said. "I have not demanded a trade. There are some issues we will pursue after the season. I really don't want to get into them right now."

After the meeting, Modell met with Marchibroda and Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. Marchibroda was unavailable for comment, and Newsome referred all questions to Modell.

"It was a one-on-one discussion -- an uneventful meeting, but a good one," said Modell. "We've had meetings like this at other times in the past. I'm not going to deal with any speculation. Vinny Testaverde has a role to play for the rest of the season, hopefully next year and for several more to come.

"I don't know what that role will be and it won't be determined until the end of the year when we evaluate all our people -- coaches, players and any other talents," Modell said.

According to a source within the organization, Modell and Testaverde also discussed the possibility of the Ravens trading up in the April draft to select a quarterback, either Peyton Manning of Tennessee or Washington State's Ryan Leaf, and a report in a Buffalo newspaper that Marchibroda had offered retired Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, 37, a three-year contract to play for the Ravens.

Marchibroda was the Bills' offensive coordinator for several years while Kelly was the quarterback. Kelly retired from the Bills last season after 11 years.

The source said Modell told Testaverde he has no plans to trade up for a quarterback and the owner dismissed any talks with Kelly during the team's practice yesterday.

"The report is false," Modell said. "There is no truth to it. Zero. Zilch. No request and no demand."

Marchibroda dismissed the report with a joke: "If I'm bringing in Jim Kelly, I might as well bring in James Lofton, too."

Testaverde said he was concerned about being the scapegoat for the team's losing season. He has won only eight games in Baltimore as a starter, but had a Pro Bowl season a year ago when he threw for 33 touchdowns, 4,177 yards and had a rating of 88.7.

Testaverde has struggled this season. He has completed 271 of 470 passes for 2,971 yards and 18 touchdowns, but has thrown 15 interceptions. His play improved in his past two games.

"A year ago, I had a Pro Bowl season and I'll be the first to admit I haven't played up to a Pro Bowl form," Testaverde said.

"But I've played hurt and so have other players. The entire offense didn't have a great year. I don't want to be the person that everyone blames for having a losing season. But the way this is being outlined, it looks more and more like it's going to be that way."

Several players close to Testaverde said he was not happy by the way Marchibroda handled the situation.

When the Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs after tying Philadelphia, 10-10, and losing to Arizona, 16-13, in the 11th and 12th games, Marchibroda said he would not play younger players, including Zeier, because he already knew what they could do and he wanted to give the Ravens their best chance of winning by staying with Testaverde.

Also, there is a custom in the league that starters cannot lose their jobs because of injuries.

Testaverde strained his left knee in the second quarter against Jacksonville two weeks ago, which forced the Ravens to start Zeier on Sunday against the Seahawks.

On Wednesday, Testaverde suggested there were other, outside influences that led to his demotion, though he did not go into detail.

There is speculation that Marchibroda gave in to media and fan pressure and concerns about ticket sales when the team moves into a new stadium next season.

Modell, who was involved in a quarterback controversy three years ago in Cleveland when Zeier replaced Testaverde, supported Marchibroda.

"That is untrue and false regarding both accounts," Modell said of the quarterback controversies. "In 37 years, I have never told a coach who to play. I have offered a suggestion when asked, but I don't get into who shouldn't or should have played until after the season, when we have our evaluation."

"All of the outside influences are not true. If there is one characteristic of Ted Marchibroda above any other coach in the game is his history with quarterbacks. Telling coaches how to use his players is not my way of running a team. It never has and never will be."

McCrary still hurting

The Ravens' much-improved pass rush, which harassed Oilers quarterback Steve McNair constantly three months ago, could be missing right end Michael McCrary, who barely practiced this week.

McCrary has been bothered by cartilage irritation in the same knee on which he had surgery four months ago. He is fourth in the AFC with nine sacks and ranks third on the Ravens with 73 tackles.

"Considering what he has gone through, Mike has had an amazing year," team physician Claude T. Moorman said.

Marchibroda expects McCrary to play, although backup Keith Washington will start and could see the most playing time.

"There was a period earlier in the season where Mike was only practicing once a week, but would end up playing. I have to count on him again Sunday," Marchibroda said. "He only goes at one speed, and that's all out."

Siragusa has surgery

Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa had successful surgery to stabilize a spiral fracture in the middle finger of his right hand yesterday, and he remains doubtful for tomorrow's game. Dr. Andy Eglseder, the team's hand specialist, performed the one-hour surgery, inserting a plate and multiple screws into the top of Siragusa's metacarpal bone.

If Siragusa doesn't play, former Maryland standout Larry Webster will replace him. Moorman said Siragusa was questionable for the season finale next week in Cincinnati.

Graham remains hobbled

The frustration goes on for rookie running back Jay Graham. Four weeks after winning the starting job in the one-back offense and rushing for a career-high 154 yards against Philadelphia (a 10-10 tie in overtime), Graham cannot shake the left ankle injury that sent him to the sideline during the extra period of that game.

In the two games after the Eagles' contest, Graham rushed 10 times for 14 yards, and could not change directions or accelerate effectively. He did not play last week against Seattle. After another week of barely practicing, Graham's best hope is probably some playing time against the Bengals in next week's final game.

The problem is a bruise on the back of the ankle bone, courtesy of the helmet of Eagles defensive end Mike Mamula.

"The sprain has healed, but there is still a significant bone bruise on the back of the ankle. It's like an ankle sprain times 10," Moorman said.

"Jay has been very diligent about getting his treatments and working through it. It's just taking a lot longer than he or any of us expected. I think there's a good chance he'll play in the finale."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Oilers

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Oilers by 2 1/2

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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