Special Report
It's Time for the Titans to Get Things Settled With McNair the Right Way
By Jeff Fuqua
June 1st, 2006, 09:34

With the ruling by the arbitrator who heard the NFL Players Association grievance against the Tennessee Titans, Steve McNair's contract was deemed violated when he was barred from working out with the team.
Regardless of which side of the issue you stand, the Titans must allow McNair and his $23.46 million salary cap liability issue back to Baptist Sports Park.

Over the last couple of months, we've all witnessed the ugly side of the game as the arguments fell on both sides of the issue.

There were the misconceptions that McNair was to be paid $23.46 million this season when the actual amount which is open for negotiation is a $9 million base with another $1 million bonus due on September 1. $13.46 million of the $23.46 million on McNair's cap was due to restructures the Titans asked him to make. If McNair is released today, that $13.46 million remains on the books for '06. Though both sides benefitted from the restructures, McNair has often been perceived as responsible for this cap figure.

Some feel #9 owes the franchise who made his pockets so deep some loyalty by playing out his career mentoring someone he claims to care about. They point to declining skills and talk of retirement only a season ago. Right or wrong, they group McNair among the stereotype athletes who demand to be "shown the money".

Many felt the day McNair was escorted off the property by a trainer ended any opportunity the Titans had to see him in a Titans uniform this season. It was the ultimate "slap-in-the-face" and damaged egos beyond recovery.

To most Titans fans, the departure of Eddie George was as ugly as the game could get. But those who have followed the team from the Oiler years in Houston and witnessed how the franchise handled Earl Campbell and Bum Phillips see it as another example of how the game is played.

So where does it go now?

"The next move is up to the club," NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said. "If I were them, I'd move quick. They've been told they broke his contract. They have to either let him in or let him go to another team."

It's unlikely a lot will happen until early next week. McNair has his football camp today and Friday so would unlikely workout until Monday, June 5. That appears to be the date McNair might test the waters with an uncomfortable return to Baptist Sports Park.

How will it this end? There are a number of directions:

1. The Titans can part ways with McNair within the next couple of days by releasing him. The Baltimore at Tennessee game on November 12 would be moved to Sunday Night and be hyped more than any game the Titans have been in since the 2003 Playoff game in New England.

2. McNair could return to the team and the issue remain unresolved until cap room is needed to sign the rookies in mid-July. This places pressure on the Baltimore Ravens to up the trade ante if they want McNair to know any of the playbook before they start their training camp on July 31. A trade deal which bumps a previous offer of a fifth-round draft pick to a fourth or third if McNair reaches certain stats may make this happen.

3. The Titans accept the risk of the $23.46 cap liability and pay the $10 mil to play out the 2006 season. This would mean players like LB Peter Sirmon and G Zach Piller, among others, are released to free up the money needed to sign the rookies. Though Floyd Reese said the team was willing to do this in March, that was before a number of free agents were signed and has to be extremely unlikely now.
4. A new deal with the Titans somehow, miraculously, happens. Rookie QB Vince Young watches and learns. McNair retires in two-tone blue. Titans fans sit back and enjoy McNair ride off into the sunset. It's hard to imagine this happening with the two sides not even in discussion at this time. According to Reese last week on a local radio station, the two sides haven't spent over two hours in negotiations.

In my opinion, this is what should be the next step.

If the liability issue is important to the Titans, Reese should invite McNair's agent Bus Cook to Baptist Sports Park for a final set of negotiations in exchange for keeping his client away from workouts for one week. In exchange, if those negotiations don't lead to a new contract for McNair by set date between now and the next team OTAs on June 13, the Titans would release/trade him.
This approach begins to repair some of the damage.

The Titans will have, at least, appeared to make a genuine effort to mend fences in the eyes of many fans who resent the handling of McNair these last few months. It shows an effort to give the team their best chance to win in '06 by keeping #9.

For those who have been critical of McNair for not wanting to finish his career with the team, it possibly salvages his legacy unlike what we saw with Eddie George. The focus can return to the numerous times McNair showed the heart we all admired as he drove his team to victory playing hurt.

Getting this issue settled allows the team to begin refocusing this next OTA. They won't have the countless questions and other distractions hanging over them until training camp or beyond. The McNair days end. The Volek rein begins.

Regardless of the outcome, it would be hard to find fault with either side for the effort. McNair may still, as he's stated before, point to his desire to play beyond '06 and not want to end his career a backup. And who could find fault that the Titans for wanting Young on the field in '07? It would just be the way it has to be as the two sides part ways.

Maybe it's just my need to see my team and a player I've respected end under good terms. Whether or not it is just for show, this would look like the franchise, and the player, cares a little about the fan.

Fans deserve that.

When McNair's current contract was created in 2004, it was designed for this day. It contained a $50 million option both sides knew would never would be paid. It was clearly designed to jump-start a new long-term contract for the 11-year veteran or result in his trade or release.

That day has come. The Titans need to show a little class and get things settled the right way. For the sake of all involved -- including the fans.

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