Ravens keeping track of McNair

BALTIMORE -- As the relationship between veteran quarterback Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans grows colder over a contract squabble, the Baltimore Ravens are closely monitoring the situation. The high-profile dispute escalated Monday when the Titans banned the former All-Pro from working out at their training facility until his hefty contract is reworked.

The Titans might cut McNair if he refuses to restructure a contract that carries a $23.46 million salary-cap figure for 2006. His agent, Bus Cook, said he believes that McNair's 11-year tenure in Nashville is coming to an end.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have remained firm on either creating competition for incumbent Kyle Boller or replacing him, but have yet to take action. Their commitment to the 2003 first-round draft pick is no longer unwavering.

"If management wants to go in a different direction with another quarterback, that's something we'll have to deal with as a team," said wide receiver Derrick Mason, who joined the Ravens last spring after the Titans cut him for financial reasons. "Right now, I'm going into the season with Kyle as our quarterback and hoping for great things.

"Kyle proved over the last five or six games that he can be a very effective quarterback when given the opportunity and time to pass the ball. I'm happy with Kyle, but he has a lot hanging over his head with all the speculation about who's going to be coming in. I think he's going to use it as motivation to be our starting quarterback."

The McNair option is attractive to the Ravens because of his leadership, toughness, arm strength and experience. The drawbacks are his tendency to get hurt, his age and high contract demands.

Kerry Collins remains another strong possibility depending on his salary requests.

McNair is scheduled to be paid a $9 million base salary for 2006. The Titans declined last month to pick up a $50 million option that would have extended his deal through 2009.

"If you asked me two years ago, I would have said, 'Yes, Steve will retire as a Tennessee Titan,' but with the salary cap and loyalty in this league, it doesn't usually happen," Mason said. "Hopefully, Steve can work things out. I would love to see him remain a Titan and retire as a Titan."

The Titans tried to perform damage control Tuesday by releasing a statement regarding the decision to bar McNair from Baptist Sports Park.

"We have communicated with Steve and Bus Cook since the fall that we could handle Steve's salary cap figure into the new league year, but we are not willing to carry that number into the season," the Titans said. "We have no choice but to protect the club and its future from the possibility of having a significant amount of our salary cap at risk in a single player should he sustain a major injury.

"This is entirely a risk-management problem. It was unfortunate the way this played out, but we think both Steve and Bus understand. We will continue our efforts to resolve the contract difficulties and look forward to Steve returning when this is completed."

After a game of flag football with Miss USA beauty pageant contestants at M&T Bank Stadium, Mason laughed when asked about whether a reunion with McNair could be in his future.

In 14 games last season, McNair, 33, passed for 3,161 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He has a career record of 81-59 and has passed for over 27,000 yards.

"Steve has a lot left," Mason said. "If you surround him with good players, Steve can play another three or four years. What he has in him doesn't go away fast."

NOTES: Along with Mason, linebacker Adalius Thomas and receivers Mark Clayton and Clarence Moore offered football instruction to Miss USA hopefuls that included Miss Maryland, Melissa DiGiulian. "It's all right to throw the ball like a girl if you're competing in Miss USA," Thomas quipped. "A lot of the girls threw better than I did.". The NFL schedule will be announced Thursday.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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