Delay game on McNair has Billick playing coy

June 07, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

The Tennessee Titans have done almost everything to stall the process of having to let quarterback Steve McNair go to the Ravens, from enduring a painstaking labor grievance to recently declaring a failed physical.

Why would the Titans put such a beloved player through the wringer?

Some NFL insiders suggest McNair is caught in the middle of a still-smoldering feud between the Ravens and the Titans that dates to when both teams were in the AFC Central.

Coach Brian Billick didn't shoot down that theory after the first day of the Ravens' full-team minicamp.

"I couldn't begin to comment on that," he said. "It's not for me to comment on why they do the things they do."

The bad blood between the franchises came from annual physical clashes that spilled into the playoffs in the 2000 and 2003 seasons. There was an endless amount of trash-talking between the players as well as the coaches, from Billick's "screaming like a banshee" mantra to coach Jeff Fisher's "two-by-four" speech to his Titans.

Billick struck a sarcastic tone yesterday when asked if he thought the Titans were "messing" with the Ravens in this McNair drama.

"No, I can't imagine them wanting to do that," he said. "I could not imagine."

McNair's agent, Bus Cook, told the Associated Press that it's time for the Titans to make a decision.

"Keep him under the contract he has, trade him, cut him or start trying to get a new deal done with the starting point being what's on the table from the Ravens," Cook said. "They don't want to do any of those things. ... You can't have your cake and eat it, too."

As a result of the delay, the Ravens are a team in limbo.

The players continued to show strong support for Kyle Boller, but they privately acknowledge the likelihood that McNair will end up as their starting quarterback.

It's an unsettling feeling to have a question mark at the game's most important position just three months from the start of the regular season.

"Yeah, it is strange. One of the reasons why we have these camps is to get reps with your quarterback and your teammates," tight end Todd Heap said. "It's something I don't like to speculate on because nothing has happened yet. But guys are talking about it because it's out there."

The Ravens already have a deal in place with McNair (a five-year agreement that includes an $11 million signing bonus), but they seem content to wait on his release from the Titans in late July. If any trade is going to occur, it is expected to happen in the next week because the Ravens wrap up their minicamps June 15.

The Titans have successfully kept McNair out of their training facility by saying he needs to pass a physical after failing his exit one last season. Some league insiders contend this is Tennessee's way of continuing to stall McNair, who did not report to the team complex yesterday and might never do so. As of yesterday, McNair had not scheduled a physical with the team.

Billick, who acknowledged being "a little bit" excited at the prospect of adding McNair, said the Ravens have no health concerns about the 11-year veteran, especially because he was cleared to play in the Pro Bowl a month after flunking the Titans' physical.

"That one I'll leave it to a higher-paid grade than me to figure out how someone can fail an exit physical but be cleared to play in the Pro Bowl," Billick said. "I'm a little confused about that myself."

Fisher tried to clarify the matter.

"The assumption is that when he went over to the Pro Bowl and played that he was healthy," Fisher said. "But he never stepped foot in a doctor's office to be declared healthy, so it's just part of the process he has to go through."

No one is more affected by this dragged-out soap opera than Boller.

After directing the first-team offense all practice, he had to answer a handful of questions about the possibility of being replaced.

"If Steve gets here, or when he gets here, we'll handle it then. But as far as now, I'm trying to get this offense where it needs to be," Boller said. "I'm going about my business right now like I'm the starter.

"If Steve comes, then things are probably going to change. I'll handle it then."

It almost seemed as if Boller would welcome McNair.

"The organization is going to make moves they think they need to make," Boller said. "Was it my first choice? No. Is it my second choice? Yeah. He's a proven veteran, he's a guy I can learn from, which I have never been able to do. Since I was a rookie, I had to learn to do things on my own."

Notes -- Linebacker Ray Lewis (hamstring), center Mike Flynn (knee) and safety Ed Reed (undisclosed reason) did not practice. They were replaced in the starting group by linebacker Mike Smith, center Jason Brown and safety Jamaine Winborne. ... The Ravens added receiver Travis LaTendresse, who originally signed with Kansas City as an undrafted rookie last month.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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