McNair covets a Super Bowl ring

OWINGS MILLS -- Steve McNair no longer has to worry about being locked out of the weight room because of an ugly contract squabble. He was enthusiastically welcomed Thursday as the Baltimore Ravens' new starting quarterback, immediately supplanting an ineffective Kyle Boller after being traded from the Tennessee Titans for a fourth-round pick in next year's draft.

"Finally, the drama is over," said McNair, who won a grievance against the Titans after they barred him from working out at their headquarters in April. "I'm here at a place that I feel like I'm very wanted, very welcomed. The NFL is a crazy business."

Now that the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player has signed a five-year contract that includes an $11 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary this year, he's hoping to cap a distinguished career by clearing another hurdle.

During the 1999 NFL season, McNair and the Titans finished one yard shy of nearly winning the Super Bowl when Kevin Dyson was tackled shy of the goal line against the St. Louis Rams. After joining a team with a rich defensive tradition, McNair has designs on remedying the lone flaw in his resume.

"This is a place I think we can win a couple of Super Bowls," said McNair, whose first day as a Raven included throwing out the first pitch at the Baltimore Orioles' game at Camden Yards. "That is the missing piece out of my career that I haven't accomplished. I talked to a lot of players today and told them it's all about chemistry, execution and believing in each other."

After years of enduring mediocrity under center, acquiring the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback arguably gives the Ravens the most accomplished quarterback in the history of their franchise.

Following a 6-10 campaign where the Ravens finished 24th in total offense, they now sport a reputable starter who has an 81-59 all-time record and is one of five quarterbacks to ever throw for 20,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards.

"He is one of the elite quarterbacks in this game," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Clearly as our starter going into training camp, Steve is going to add a dimension to this football team that we have not had since I've been here."

The Ravens aren't guaranteeing that the 33-year-old McNair will immediately boost them into contenders for next season's Super Bowl in Miami, but they are predicting a dramatic improvement from a passing game that languished under Boller despite the presence of wide receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton and tight end Todd>
"Bringing Steve in, does that guarantee us being in Miami? No, it doesn't," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But I think today we are a better football team than we were yesterday."

McNair shared MVP honors in 2003 with
Peyton Manning when he passed for 3,215 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He produced a career-high 100.4 quarterback rating and averaged an NFL-high 8.04 yards per attempt.

"I think it transforms us," said Mason, who caught 29 touchdown passes from McNair when they played together in Tennessee. "If we protect him and don't let him take a lot of shots, Steve can last about three or four years and play at a very high level and decide when he wants to retire."

Adding McNair brings the Ravens' total to three former Titans, including cornerback Samari Rolle. All of them have played in the Pro Bowl.

"I never thought I would see this," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "I'm waiting for Eddie George to walk into the locker room."

McNair's dramatic workplace change comes only after the Titans were unable to convince him to restructure a $23.46 million salary-cap figure that included a $9 million base salary. The Ravens, who were authorized by Tennessee to negotiate with McNair during the NFL draft after the Titans selected former Texas star quarterback Vince Young, quickly struck a deal that's believed to pay McNair $20 million in the first three seasons.

McNair declined to criticize the Titans, who drafted him third overall out of Alcorn State (Miss.) 11 years ago.

"We knew that the $23 million salary cap hit was going to be impossible for them to handle," McNair said. "It was a crazy situation. You spend 11 years and you dedicate your whole life and you dedicate your whole body to a situation. Of course, they maybe could have [handled the situation better], maybe not. That's not for me to answer. I'm just glad that everything is behind me."

A native of Mt. Olive, Miss., McNair is entering his 12th season and is the eighth oldest starting quarterback in the league behind Brad Johnson, Brett Favre, Trent Green, Mark Brunell, Kurt Warner, Drew Bledsoe and Jon Kitna.

Billick compared the situation to coaching a 38-year-old Warren Moon during a successful stint as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator.

"The accountability will be there clearly," said Billick, acknowledging that McNair's presence will renew the scrutiny of his track record with quarterbacks.

Although he's not considered nearly as mobile or durable as he used to be, McNair does carry a lot of credibility built by his experience, production and popularity.

"The guy walks in the door and if he's got the pedigree that he has and he's been to the Super Bowl, they give him the respect right off the bat," offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said. "It raises the hopes. We've got leader guys, but sometimes a new guy -- especially at the quarterback position -- it's very helpful.

"When he walked in, I don't think there was one guy on the team who didn't think, ‘That's Steve McNair, a winning, quality, professional, classic quarterback."

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who usually got the better of McNair in the old AFC Central including a 2001 playoff victory that propelled the Ravens toward their Super Bowl title, flashed a smile at the mention of his friend.

"Okay, No. 9, here we go," said Lewis, who lost a wild-card playoff to McNair's Titans in Baltimore in 2003. "He's a warrior."

McNair has underwent six surgeries, including procedures to his sternum, chest and knee. He was voted as the third- toughest professional athlete by USA Today in 2004 behind Favre and Allen Iverson.

McNair, who missed eight games in 2004 and two games last season due to injuries, offered no predictions on how much longer he might play football.

"When you pass 10 years, you take it one year at a time," said McNair, who has been limited to 24 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his last 22 starts. "I feel like if I can go through this year clean and healthy then I can play each year with the same mentality."

The Ravens and their fans are banking on McNair's addition to end a diverse string of disappointments under center that includes the likes of Scott Mitchell, Tony Banks, Stoney Case, Elvis Grbac, Chris Redman, Boller and several others.

"They never had a guy that brought this credibility to them in 11 years," Rolle said. "For the fans, it's all about, ‘We got Steve McNair.' They're excited and they should be. Great quarterbacks are rare."

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

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