McNair grievance ruling set for June 1

OWINGS MILLS -- It will probably be at least another two weeks before an arbitrator renders his decision on whether the Tennessee Titans breached quarterback Steve McNair's contract by barring him from workouts at their training complex.

And that delayed outcome in this high-profile dispute is likely to further stall McNair potentially joining the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have reportedly agreed to contract language with the former co-Most Valuable Player that includes nearly $12 million in first-year compensation, but hit an impasse in trade talks with Titans management.

Following over seven hours of testimony at the Titans' headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., NFL Players association general counsel Richard Berthelsen said that arbitrator John Feerick is hopeful of ruling on the grievance by June 1. The union argued that McNair should be allowed to work out with his teammates or be released.

"Every player has a right, we believe, to be on club property to participate with his teammates," Berthelsen told Tennessee reporters Tuesday night. "That's the only place where a player is protected in terms of if he's hurt and gets his salary. For a team to say, ‘You can't be on our property because we don't want to have that risk,' then that risk is unfairly shifted to the player.

"Obviously I can't speak for Steve, but it's a pity that a player who has meant as much as he has to this franchise is being told in his 11th year that he can't be on club property, especially since he's under contract. I can't think of a player who has done more for this franchise. It's a shame things have come to where they've come."

The Titans informed McNair on April 3 that he wasn't allowed to work out at their facility until he reworks his $23.46 million salary cap figure and $9 million base salary for 2006, citing liability concerns.

"We feel confident Mr. Feerick has a complete understanding of the relevant issues in the case and the applicable provisions of the collective bargaining agreement," Titans team attorney Steve Underwood said in a statement. "We will not issue any further comment on the issue until a decision has been rendered."

McNair and his agent departed without comment.

The Titans and McNair have ceased negotiating, and team officials for both clubs have said that trade discussions haven't been revisited since Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome declined to raise his offer of a fifth-round draft pick to Tennesse's request of a fourth-rounder.

McNair testified that he would prefer to remain with the Titans, according to Berthelsen.

"Steve said what he's always said: He would love to be a Tennessee Titan and retire in that uniform, but yet it seems the team is not allowing him to perform," Berthelsen said.

Berthelsen said the Titans engaged in a lengthy cross-examination regarding McNair's offseason workout habits.
"It was mainly irrelevant things like, ‘You weren't here much in the past, were you? So, why do you want to be here now?'" Berthelsen claimed. "But it wasn't really to the point."

Barring the unlikely scenarios of reconciliation with Tennessee or the team attempting to trade him to another club, the Ravens are likely to eventually pick up McNair. However, it might not happen until late July when Tennessee will need to clear salary-cap space to sign a rookie class that includes quarterback Vince Young.

Two decades ago, the union won a similar case involving Oakland Raiders fullback Steve Smith where he was barred from working out at the facility while they attempted to trade him. He received damages after leaving the team.

"The principle is still there," Berthelsen said. "The player has the right to be there, and the club is breaching its obligations to him if they won't let him in."

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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