By acting now on McNair, Ravens avoid disaster later

June 08, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

So the Ravens did hurry up, after all. Mark that down as one of the best decisions this franchise has made in a long time.

All that's left to figure out, then, is why now, and why not later. "Later" seemed like such a good idea to the Tennessee Titans, and it seemed to be the acceptable path to getting Steve McNair into a Ravens uniform for the 2006 season. It wasn't "Hurry up," it was "Hurry up and wait."

Then yesterday, suddenly, it wasn't anymore.

Did the Titans finally find a shred of decency and realize how petty they were being with their former co-Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl quarterback? Or did the Ravens realize that they couldn't afford to let their immediate future hang on the whims of their longtime rival? Or was it a combination of both, with a little pressure from McNair's agent ("You can't have your cake and eat it, too") and the general public tossed in to spice it up?

One might reply: Who cares? You should care. This could have gone so wrong.

We're not talking about a meteor hitting McNair on the way to his long-negotiated return to the Titans' facility for his gratuitous Titans physical. (The diagnosis: a severely swollen, painful cap figure; remove at once.) We're talking about time slipping by, minicamps rolling on, other teams finding a sudden need for a veteran quarterback, the Titans deciding to keep squeezing out more ransom for their captive leader.

Even, worst-case scenario (well, not really worse than the meteor thing), the Titans managing, against all odds, to convince McNair to stay. It couldn't be ruled out.

If any of those things had happened, the Ravens would be in trouble like they've rarely, if ever, been in trouble going into a season. The support voiced for Kyle Boller by his coach and teammates this week has been gratifying, but in reality, having this deal blow up on them would have been a disaster.

But none of that happened. The Ravens acted. They took their shot and paid the Titans' price, believed to be a fourth-round pick, which is in the neighborhood of what the two teams had talked about all along. Good for Ozzie Newsome. It will further define his tenure as general manager here, and it will define it for the good. It doesn't have to be the gutsiest move ever, just the smartest.

As has been said here before, consider the window the Ravens have claimed they're in right now: two years, then a cap-related roster detonation. A future Hall of Famer could be sitting in that position in the fourth round in next year's draft. But there's no way that player puts the Ravens into the Super Bowl conversation the way McNair does. Couldn't do it this season, naturally, and wouldn't do it next season.

Would it have been worth it to the Ravens to wait until the player who will dictate the success of the team in the next two years was given away to them? That is, would it have been worth the risk of not getting him after such a long wait, as long as the wait has already been?

No.

One big reason why it wouldn't have been worth it to keep dancing to the Titans' tune spent 23 minutes on the practice field in Owings Mills yesterday breaking his silence to the local media. It wasn't easy to extract a lot of meaning from Ray Lewis' comments, other than his regret for calling his teammates out the way he had, his commitment to the Ravens and his commitment to not breaking his silence very often from now on.

But if he drove any point home more fiercely than the rest, it was that he hates losing. ("I hate losing," he said, repeatedly.) Say what you will about his words, actions and motives since the middle of last season when he first disappeared from public view. He deserves a lot of it. But he also deserves a chance to win while he still can have a say in it.

He's hardly alone in that on the Ravens. It's been five years since the Super Bowl and two years since the last playoff appearance. Both are an eternity in the NFL, especially for a player who has given himself up the way Lewis has. And the way McNair has, for that matter.

"He's a warrior," Lewis said of McNair, before news of the deal broke. "I don't know what person wouldn't like a warrior on their ballclub."

In all, Lewis referred to McNair as a warrior six times. So consider him on board with this, which by all indications means a lot around here.

It should. The Ravens will win more with McNair than with anyone else they could have had, and that might be more than enough to turn last season's 6-10 around. This puts them back into the game.

Just in time, because if they had waited much longer, the game would have started without them. david.steele@baltsun.com

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