Does McNown need surgery? Will he have it this year? At some point, McNown likely will undergo surgery to repair an injury to the A-C Joint in his throwing shoulder that he sustained against the Philadelphia Eagles while playing for the Chicago Bears in 2000.
But with the Niners trying to develop a strong supporting cast at quarterback this season behind starter Jeff Garcia, the time is now. And neither McNown or the Niners seem interested in a surgery that would shelve the lefty for the 2002 season.
When asked after Tuesday's morning practice session if he would need surgery before or during the upcoming season, McNown said, "I think those are questions that the training staff and medical staff can answer. As far as I'm concerned, my whole objective is to come out here and learn in the classroom and compete on the field. Those things will probably all be decided later."
General manager Terry Donahue, the man responsible for bringing McNown to San Francisco, was more to the point in stating McNown won't have surgery that will make him unavailable this season.
"There are no immediate plans for that," Donahue said. "In the long run (it's possible). It's not a possibility right now. We expect Cade to be here, competing for a quarterback position on the team, and we expect that he's going to play in the preseason. He does have a bad A-C Joint, there's no question about that. It does affect his throwing to some degree. But we don't have any immediate plans to do anything about it. At some point, we'll have to address it, but not today and not next week."
The question is, why not? McNown struggled during the first week of training camp, and several of his fluttering throws looked as though somebody had shot them out of the air in mid-flight. If this is because of physical problems, then why is the team pushing the issue? McNown certainly can't help the Niners as a No. 3 QB this season - or push Tim Rattay at No. 2 - if he is having injury problems that affect his throwing.
If the Niners really feel they can develop McNown to be a possible starting candidate for the future, it would seem sensible to let him have the surgery now, get it out of the way, and also allow him a full season to learn and get comfortable in the system. Even at this early juncture, it's reasonable to say McNown won't be a factor for the team at QB this year even if he were healthy.
But McNown and the Niners are sticking to the premise he is healthy enough to compete for a job this season.
"I don't feel too much pain in my shoulder," McNown said. "I think I have a lot of tenderness. I'm just working through it on the field and just doing as best I can. The important thing for me to remember is not to think about it, take care of what I can in the training room and then come out here and compete and put it in the back of my mind. All I can worry about right now is just learning what I can and doing what I can on the field. I'm not going to use (the injury) as a crutch or anything."
Said Donahue: "One of the things we want to do is, we want to make sure we give him an opportunity to play in the preseason so we can evaluate his talents and how he handles the team and game conditions. So there's no reason for us to consider that surgery right now."