McNair wins case vs. Titans

Arbitrator's decision could clear QB's path to Ravens

June 01, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

The NFL Players Association and Steve McNair won their grievance against the Tennessee Titans yesterday, a victory that could speed up the quarterback's move to the Ravens.

Arbitrator John Feerick, who presided over the seven-hour hearing May 16, ruled that the Titans violated their contract with McNair by barring him from their facility. He said Tennessee must let McNair back into its training complex or allow him to go to another team.

No time frame was given for the Titans to adhere to the ruling, but NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said the club should "move quickly."

The arbitrator's decision failed to immediately restart trade talks between the Ravens and the Titans yesterday. The Ravens have an agreement in place with McNair, but the teams have not spoken since the end of April.

"He's still a Tennessee Titan," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

The Titans stopped McNair from working out at team headquarters April 3 because they feared being liable for his $23.46 million salary cap number if he got hurt on their property.

If the Titans still consider that too big a risk, they might be more willing to trade McNair now.

But there is a chance Tennessee will allow McNair back into the facility just to force the Ravens to increase their trade offer. The Ravens were willing to give the Titans a fifth-round pick on NFL draft weekend.

The Titans are not scheduled for another on-field practice session until June 13.

"With this element now resolved, we assume Steve would rejoin our offseason program at some point," said Steve Underwood, the Titans' general counsel. "I also would expect to see discussions between the Titans and [McNair's agent] Bus Cook reopened in an attempt to work out something that would be beneficial to both sides."

Cook told ESPN that McNair likely won't report to the facility until Monday because he is hosting a youth football camp in the Nashville area the rest of this week.

"I guess we'll find out right away what this was about," Cook said. "Did [the Titans] really fear the consequences of an injury or were they trying to force Steve's hand on taking a new three-year contract that would pay him less than he would make with the Ravens in one year?"

Whatever the Titans decide, the arbitrator's ruling was seen as a positive step by the union and McNair, who normally trains in the offseason in his hometown of Mount Olive, Miss., rather than in Nashville, Tenn., anyway.

"It is unfortunate that we had to go through a long and difficult arbitration to prove our point," Berthelsen said. "But at least now the Titans know that they have to either employ him as one of their players or let him go somewhere else to play."

Ravens officials privately remain confident that McNair will become their starting quarterback for the 2006 season.

There have been no negotiations to restructure his contract with the Titans, and no other team has expressed interest in the two-time Pro Bowl pick.

Tennessee is expected to trade or release McNair eventually because it would free $9 million (his 2006 salary) of cap room. Only $112,000 under the cap, the Titans need to reduce his cap number so they can sign draft picks and free agents. Teams usually begin to sign their rookies in July.

The Titans gave McNair permission to speak to the Ravens after they drafted University of Texas quarterback Vince Young with the No. 3 overall pick, and the Ravens quickly struck an agreement with McNair that includes an $11 million signing bonus.

The Ravens have long targeted McNair this offseason, opting not to pursue any available veteran quarterbacks. It is expected that McNair would be given the starting job over Kyle Boller.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

WHAT THE ARBITRATOR'S RULING MEAN

The Titans must allow QB Steve McNair back into the team's facility or enable him to go to another team.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN

Titans let McNair work out at facility

Titans initiate trade talks or release him.

Titans keep McNair until the neew to cut him for salary cap purposes.

Titans and McNair agree to restructured contract.

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