McNair-Titans showdown looming

OWINGS MILLS -- Steve McNair will try to argue his way off the Tennessee Titans' roster Tuesday morning at an arbitration hearing, but precedent suggests it's doubtful that the veteran quarterback will immediately be free to join the Baltimore Ravens.

It took five days for an arbitrator to render a decision in Terrell Owens' unrelated grievance last fall, and a similar case to McNair's from two decades ago makes it appear improbable that he will gain his requested release.

So, the Ravens, who have reportedly worked out the parameter of a restructured contract with McNair's agent, Bus Cook, that includes nearly $12 million in first-year compensation, will continue to wait for McNair.

The NFL Players Association will argue in a 9:30 a.m. hearing at the Titans' Baptist Sports Park headquarters that McNair should either be allowed to rejoin his teammates for workouts or be released.

Nearly two decades ago, the Oakland Raiders barred fullback Steve Smith from their facility because they didn't want to risk him getting injured on the job while they attempted to trade him. Smith ultimately won his case and the right to come back to work and remained with the Raiders.

NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen will argue that the Titans breached the 2003 co-Most Valuable Player's contract when a trainer informed him that he was not allowed to work out at their facility until he reworked a contract with a $23.46 million salary-cap figure and a $9 million base salary.

"The Titans can't have it both ways," Berthelsen said in a telephone interview. "They can't employ Steve McNair and, at the same time, deny him the right to work out with his teammates. It's fundamentally unfair and we believe it's clearly a breach of his contract."

The Titans have denied that they are in breach, citing liability concerns.

It's unlikely that the Titans and McNair will reconcile because there have been no talks. Cook declined to comment.

Trade negotiations between Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Titans general manager Floyd Reese broke down during the draft when the Titans asked for a fourth-round pick in exchange for McNair and Baltimore declined to raise its offer above a fifth-round selection.

There have been no subsequent discussions, according to officials from both teams. It's believed that Baltimore is willing to wait until late July when the Titans will need to shed McNair's contract to sign its draft class, including Texas quarterback Vince Young.

The Titans will be represented by Dennis Curran, the general counsel for the NFL management council, along with Washington attorney Daniel Nash and team attorney Steve Underwood. McNair is expected to attend a hearing that may last more than one day.

No one involved predicted a quick remedy to a high-profile conflict the Ravens are monitoring closely.

"Historically for us, it's not been something that happened immediately," Reese told Tennessee reporters. "Now could it happen? I guess it could. But it would be a first."

The Ravens have incumbent Kyle Boller at quarterback, but are eagerly anticipating McNair's arrival at some point.

"Steve is going to come in with a chip on his shoulder because of the way things were handled in Tennessee," predicted Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle, a close friend and former McNair teammate. "I don't think any team wants to play us with Steve McNair playing with a chip on his shoulder."

NOTES: The Ravens will begin three weeks of voluntary workouts today at their training complex, preceding two full-team minicamps in June. The practice sessions are closed to reporters and the general public. … The Ravens are hosting their ninth annual Spring Football Festival on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Brian Billick is scheduled to attend along with several players, including Ed Reed, Adalius Thomas, Mark Clayton and Chris McAlister.

Aaron Wilson writes Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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