Sinking Ravens need to quickly pick up Titans' castaway

June 01, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Here's a wholly unsolicited suggestion for the Ravens, now that Steve McNair has been liberated from his Nashville captors:

Hurry up!

What are you waiting for? Get him before he gets away or before something else crazy happens. This whole workout-room business, this whole tangle with the union and the arbitrator and the team that's trying not to pay him - enough.

He needs out, his team wants him out and the door's open. So step in, please.

You don't have an eternity to get this done; apparently, the clock is ticking toward the next salary cap-related destruction of the roster. You don't have all summer, either; camp opens in less than two months, and there's a minicamp next week.

Heck, you might not even have all day. Now that the arbitrator has ruled that McNair has the right to work out at his team's facilities while still on its roster, he might get an itch to get in some squats before breakfast. Way, way too big a risk.

Get down to Tennessee, pack McNair in bubble wrap and bring him back, already.

Just 11 days ago, team president Dick Cass told fans that, in essence, the window for contention by the current core group is two years, before the Ravens would likely have to make a salary cap purge. Gotta admit, didn't really see that coming.

But now that it's out there, are the Ravens prepared to entrust that window, and the careers of the head coach, his assistants, the general manager and half the roster, to Kyle Boller, if there's something better available, even if it's more complicated to pull off?

That's the question on the table. Not "How good might Boller eventually get?" or "Did he turn the corner late in the season?" or "Are the pieces around him to help him?" Simply this: "Can you do better in the time you have?"

Time. It's all about time. Presumably, there will be time for McNair to get on the same page as the offensive brain trust if he gets here sometime this month. Why risk the wait, though? Plus, it's a little nerve-racking (probably illogically so) to think that the longer this tug-of-war goes on, the better chance for another team to decide it wants to make a run at him, at the Titans' price.

Meanwhile, getting this done soon would also do us all a favor and spare us the fatigue of another Watch. Never before have so many people watched so much coverage of so little activity. The McNair Watch, the Brett Favre Watch, the NFL Contract Watch, the Larry Brown Watch, the Barry Bonds Watch, the Barbaro Watch, the Roger Clemens Watch ...

Speaking of which - $12 million for half a season? And you thought the Enron guys were the biggest crooks in Houston. Is Clemens going to pitch every day, like Satchel Paige barnstorming around and working both ends of a doubleheader? At that price, the Astros had better win the World Series and the Super Bowl and the World Cup.

But back to the Ravens.

Some of the faithful might think that the panic over McNair is too much. No, it's not. Especially now with the two-year-window news. The Ravens can no longer afford the luxury of waiting to see if the quarterback of the future is on the cusp of blossoming.

If they go from the most recent implosion of the roster, in 2002, to the next, in 2008, without getting as much as a sniff at another championship - and remember, that stretch will include most of Ray Lewis' prime, even if he's not around for the end of it - then the post-Super Bowl years will be viewed as a waste.

Dissect the past five seasons any way you like, but the common denominator has been inconsistency at the most important position on the field. That's the past. The immediate future includes a steep uphill climb within the Ravens' own division. They were behind nearly everybody in the standings last season; in the offseason, they're behind everybody.

McNair, then, is a gift from the heavens.

And on that subject, if getting him means getting him at a price, then pay it. Having him fall into their laps for nothing would be miraculous, and with the arbitrator's decision yesterday, the Titans may not have any other options but to push him out. But for what McNair could, and should, mean to this team, that second-day draft pick (even if it's early on the second day) is a pretty fair price.

If it's more than that, a first-day pick ... well, it's worth the gamble. McNair has "missing piece" written all over him.

Let's hope this is all part of the cat-and-mouse games everyone has to play, the urge to get 50.1 percent out of every deal, the understandable desire to not be left empty-handed. Let's hope that it's not a matter of if the Ravens do this, but when. And let's hope that "when" doesn't become a problem.

They have, finally, freed Steve McNair. The Ravens had better not let him stay free for long.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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

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