Wycheck: McNair will be a Raven

OWINGS MILLS -- Frank Wycheck has been watching the Steve McNair drama intently, and the retired Tennessee tight end said he would be shocked if the veteran quarterback ever throws another pass in a Titans uniform.

Wycheck, a former Maryland standout who's now a color analyst for the Titans' radio broadcasts, expects the high-profile dispute between McNair and Tennessee to ultimately end with the 2003 NFL Co-Most Valuable Player wearing the Ravens' purple-and-black colors.

"There's basically no way I could see Steve coming back to Tennessee at this point, not with all that has happened," Wycheck said in a telephone interview. "It's going to be a strange feeling to watch him run into the Coliseum on Nov. 12 with [former Titans] Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle all wearing that dirty bird on their helmets. It's time to cut ties."

Since the Ravens agreed in April to a five-year contract with McNair that includes an $11 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary in 2006, NFL arbitrator John Feerick ruled in his favor that he could return to workouts at the Titans' Baptist Sports Park headquarters. However, he denied McNair's request that he be released and paid damages for Tennessee barring him from workouts.

The Titans haven't been successful in convincing McNair to restructure a contract that carries a massive $23.46 million salary-cap figure and a $9 million base salary. And the Ravens and Titans have been unable to agree on trade compensation, which could lead to McNair eventually being released as Tennessee needs to clear salary-cap room to sign a draft class that includes quarterback Vince Young.

Wycheck said he couldn't predict whether McNair will show up for voluntary workouts as soon as today, but opined that the impasse between the three-time Pro Bowl selection and the Titans is about much more than money.

"Steve is big on respect," Wycheck said. "He has a lot of pride as a competitor and a football player. He's a tough son-of-a-gun. This whole thing is very hard on him."

Wycheck, who played with the Titans for nine of his 11 seasons before retiring to the broadcast booth, compared the McNair situation to how the team parted ways with former Pro Bowl running back Eddie George over a contract dispute.

"Steve has done a lot for this team and it's sad to say, but the NFL is a business," Wycheck said. "Sometimes, that's a really hard thing to accept because business decisions affect a player personally. That's the climate in the league today and it's unfortunate."

Last season, McNair finished 18th in the league with an 82.4 passer rating. He missed two games as Tennessee went 4-12 with the youngest roster in the league.

Over the past two seasons, McNair has started 22 games and thrown for a combined 24 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and 4,504 yards. In 2003, he passed for 3,215 yards, 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a career-high 100.4 quarterback rating.

"Steve has been banged-up a lot in recent years, but he definitely can still play at a very high level," Wycheck said. "He's not as elusive as he used to be, but he also consciously has decided not to run as much as he used to. He's more of a pocket guy.

"You have to realize he hasn't been playing with the same personnel. In Baltimore, he certainly wouldn't lack for weapons with Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Jamal Lewis. I think he would be extremely productive. He still has some good years left in him."

McNair has drawn criticism for his penchant for taking naps at the stadium before kickoff, for not burning the midnight oil on film study or always staying late after practice to throw to receivers.

Wycheck called the criticism unfair and defended McNair's work ethic.

"Steve is not like Peyton Manning in the sense that he's not going to stay up until 4 a.m. watching film and worrying about every single possible contingency," Wycheck said. "Steve is more of a reactionary quarterback who adjusts to what's happening on the field. He's instinctive and he's smart.

"He puts his time in and he studies. He always knows the offense and what's going on, so that's overblown. Steve took a lot of naps before winning a lot of games for us and took us to within one yard of winning the Super Bowl. I think that speaks for itself."

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

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