McNair wins grievance against Titans

OWINGS MILLS -- Steve McNair won a legal victory in his grievance against the Tennessee Titans, but the veteran quarterback didn't immediately gain his freedom to join the Baltimore Ravens. Stalled trade discussions weren't revisited by team officials Wednesday.

NFL arbitrator John Feerick ruled that the Titans must cease and desist from barring McNair from workouts at their headquarters as long as he remains under contract. The Titans barred McNair from their facility April 3, citing liability concerns regarding his $23.46 million salary-cap figure. During the NFL draft, the Titans granted McNair's agent permission to negotiate with Baltimore and an agreement was reportedly reached on the framework of a deal that will pay him nearly $11 million in guaranteed money.

"This means the Titans either have to honor his contract and let him work out at the facility or release him," NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen said. "This is how we hoped it would go."

It wasn't a complete victory for McNair and the players' union, though. They asked for McNair to be released and paid damages. Neither request was granted by Feerick, who heard seven hours of testimony May 16 in Nashville, Tenn.

"Although the arbitrator ruled that the Titans can't prevent Steve McNair from participating in the team's offseason workout program, we are gratified that the decision has rejected numerous claims put forth by Mr. McNair and the NFLPA, including the player's requests to be released from his contract and to be compensated for missed workouts," the league said in a statement. "The decision also makes clear that the club's actions didn't constitute discipline and that players don't have an absolute right under the CBA to offseason workouts at a club's facility. The arbitrator went out of his way to say that this is an unusual and narrow case, and that only under these unique circumstances must the club grant the player a right to work out at its facility."

Last month, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome balked at Titans general manager Floyd Reese's demand of a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for McNair and declined to raise his offer of a fifth-round selection. The Ravens have been reluctant to discuss McNair publicly, although former Titans cornerback Samari Rolle embraced the possibility enthusiastically. Privately, team officials are extremely excited about the prospect of adding the 2003 NFL Co-Most Valuable Player.

Meanwhile, McNair's agent said it's highly unlikely that the 33-year-old will report to work at the Titans' Baptist Sports Park facility.

"Would you go back if this happened to you?" Cook said. "He might feel differently, but if it were me, I don't think I'd want to go back there after all that's happened."

Talks to restructure McNair's contract between Cook and the Titans, who drafted Texas quarterback Vince Young in the first round, have been virtually nonexistent. Cook confirmed that McNair agreed to a five-year contract with an $11 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary.
When asked how McNair would react if Tennessee offered a comparable financial package to the one dangled by Baltimore, Cook replied: "It would be up to Steve, but I doubt the Titans would be able to do that."
Tennessee is about $500,000 underneath the salary cap limit and will need to shed McNair's salary or restructure it to have enough money to sign its draft class. Rookies normally don't sign contracts until late July.

"We will respect the decision of the arbitrator who heard lengthy testimony from both sides and ruled for and against each party in his decision," Titans general counsel Steve Underwood said in a statement. "We stand by the fact that we were looking out for the best interest of the club in our action and our intention was not to punish Steve. From the reading of the decision, it looks like the arbitrator felt that the circumstances of the case were unique and special as they related to Tennessee state law and not necessarily a breach of the CBA."

Although it sounds like posturing, the Titans claimed they haven't ruled out the possibility of mending fences with McNair. The Titans' next minicamp is scheduled for June 13. Baltimore begins its mandatory full-team camp next week.

It will be interesting to see how Tennessee might reacts if McNair decides to show up for workouts and begins hoisting heavy weights and throwing the football.

"With this element now resolved, we assume Steve would rejoin our offseason program at some point," Underwood said. "I also would expect to see discussions between the Titans and Bus Cook reopened in an attempt to work out something that would be beneficial to both sides."

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

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