In the logic-challenged NFL, McNair saga business as usual

May 07, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

The NFL's nonsensical, logic-twisting, fairness-challenged way of doing business is going to get the Ravens the quarterback they need and the one the fans are lusting for.

One of these days, it will. Apparently not anytime soon, because, again, that's the way the NFL works. It's how the league and the players wanted it. Squint your eyes and cock your head enough, and you'd be convinced that everybody wins - Steve McNair's old team, McNair's new team and McNair himself.

You bet the Ravens win with this deal, for that reported $12 million, for that low draft pick (if that happens) or for simply waiting in the lifeboat when the Titans push him overboard. And if the public enthusiasm about this is real, then the fans win.

Then again, being happy they're getting McNair the way they are isn't unrelated to being happy about the way Baltimore got the Ravens. Once again, one city benefits from another's loss. You really need selective memory sometimes to enjoy the NFL. The pleasure of getting McNair will last longer than the anguish of letting go of, say, Peter Boulware.

But occasionally, such a backward-yet-effective way of operating gets taken to the extreme. This is one of those times. For now, the Titans are controlling the strings, yanking McNair and the Ravens around, for only one reason: because they can.

This is what the NFL Players Association is complaining about. Its problem with how the Titans are handling the eventual divorce can be summed up in a T-shirt slogan: Free Steve McNair!

(I'm claiming the copyright on that, the way Pat Riley once copyrighted "Three-peat." I want to cash in on this, too. So if I see that slogan on one T-shirt around here, you'll be hearing from my lawyer.)

The union's point is clear and rational: If you don't want him on your team, you can't stop him both from working for your team and from working for somebody else.

The Titans' reply: Who says we can't?

That's where the everybody-wins concept falls apart. The Ravens are hamstrung even though they're not even remotely out of line in wanting McNair here, signed and getting blended in. As for McNair, who's being shoved out after taking hits, to his body and his contract, for the team year after year - welcome to the club.

This happens in bunches every year, and the union nods in assent because it made the signing-bonus trade-off. Fans alternately hate it (when their favorite players are cut loose when teams decide they just don't feel like paying them anymore) and love it (when their team catches a key addition when he falls).

Ravens fans? Love it.

McNair, if reports are true, even gets a raise out of it. A massive one, much more than just the difference between his scheduled Titans salary and his Ravens deal - because the only way he would have stayed a Titan is if he had agreed to yet another renegotiation, another pay cut to serve the Titans' purposes.

That's how you reward the most important player in franchise history. (Earl Campbell is a good candidate, yes, but he never took the Houston Oilers to a Super Bowl.)

In exchange for getting the money he's due and for playing for a team that wants him, McNair gets to walk away from his only NFL home, one that would never part with him in such a way had the cap number the team had created years before not been a factor. But it bit the Titans with Eddie George; McNair is only the latest.

Once upon a time it bit Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, so why should a couple of guys from Nashville be given special treatment?

"It is difficult, when you take into consideration what he has done and what he means to the franchise," Titans coach Jeff Fisher told the Nashville Tennessean last week. "Steve has been around long enough to understand that you have to separate the business side from everything else."

Didn't Michael Corleone used to have a saying like that?

In time, the Titans' gratuitous twist of the knife will be just a minor part of the story. It seems like such a needless annoyance now. The Titans, regardless of how and why it benefits a team they're not terribly fond of, ought to just stand up and say: "We're through with this guy. If you want him, here he is. Let's both move on, you away from the Kyle Boller era, us toward the Vince Young era."

Then again, the Titans have pretty much already said it, at least the first part. Now, they should do the rest - and take the NFL, the union, the arbitrator, the draft pick and what's left of their sense of loyalty out of it.

Free Steve McNair. (Use of this slogan without permission is prohibited.) david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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