Testaverde signs with Pats, returns to NFL for 21st season

In a move that has been anticipated for much of the offseason, the New England Patriots signed unrestricted free agent quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who will return to the league for a 21st season, on Saturday afternoon.

Contract details were not immediately available, but it is believed that Testaverde signed a one-year deal that includes a base salary of $820,000.

New England also released three players, the most prominent of whom was nine-year veteran defensive back Artrell Hawkins. The others were second-year cornerback Gemara Williams and rookie linebacker Kyle Bissinger.

Testaverde, 43, said last month during a national radio appearance that he would sign with the Patriots during training camp, but not until two-a-day practices concluded and the club had played a preseason game or two. He also signed a one-year contract with the Patriots last November and played in three games, completing two of three passes for 29 yards, with one touchdown pass and no interceptions.

He spent this spring and summer as an unrestricted free agent, but took part in the Pats' passing camps and in the team's mandatory three-day minicamp. Coach Bill Belichick is an admirer of Testaverde, and the team had maintained his locker in the offseason.

Beyond starter Tom Brady, the New England roster includes third-year veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Matt Gutierrez, an undrafted free agent. The addition of Testaverde gives the Pats a veteran insurance policy and it also provides him an opportunity to perhaps win a Super Bowl ring before he retires.

The top overall selection in the 1987 draft, by the Tampa Bay Bucs, the much-traveled Testaverde has played with six different franchises during his long career. He has completed 3,693 of 6,259 passes for 45,281 yards, with 270 touchdowns passes and 261 interceptions, for an efficiency rating of 75.2.

In stints with Tampa Bay (1987-92), Cleveland (1993-95), Baltimore (1996-97), the New York Jets (1998-2003, 2005), Dallas (2004) and New England (2006), he has compiled six seasons with 3,000 or more passing yards and four years with 20 or more touchdown passes.

His most prolific season was with Baltimore in 1996, when he threw for 4,177 yards and had 33 touchdown passes.

Testaverde is No. 6 in NFL history in completions, attempts and passing yards and ranks ninth in touchdown passes.

Hawkins, 30, has appeared in 122 games in stints with Cincinnati (1998-2003), Carolina (2004) and New England (2005-2006). A second-round choice in the 1998 draft, he has 480 tackles, 11 interceptions and 69 passes defensed.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.