McNair's exit has lasting effects

OWINGS MILLS -- In the aftermath of quarterback Steve McNair's abrupt retirement, there was an immediate ripple effect on the Baltimore Ravens' plans. McNair's departure suddenly leaves former starter Kyle Boller and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith as the only quarterbacks on the roster.

And that triggers a competition for the starting job between Boller as he enters a contract year and Smith who has more to prove after displaying flashes as a rookie.

When asked who's his starting quarterback, coach John Harbaugh replied: "It's competitive. We lost our incumbent and now it's wide open."

There's also the big-picture factor of how this development affects the Ravens' draft outlook.

Even though general manager Ozzie Newsome emphatically insisted that McNair's choice doesn't force them into trade maneuvers to acquire top-rated Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, the exit of a former Pro Bowl quarterback advertises the obvious need at the position.

McNair's absence could alter how other teams view the Ravens' agenda. Of course, Baltimore was expected to draft a quarterback prior to McNair's bombshell.

"This has no impact on our plans," Newsome said. "This will not impact our decision in the draft, not one iota. I had the opportunity to speak to my staff and echoed that to them. They felt the same way."

Last year, the Ravens explored trading up to acquire Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. The cost ultimately became too rich for the Ravens as Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage dealt with the Dallas Cowboys to land Quinn.

That desire for a franchise quarterback, whether it's Ryan or possible late first-round or early second-round options like Delaware's Joe Flacco, Louisville's Brian Brohm and Michigan's Chad Henne, hasn't abated.

"We talked about a year ago to start going about looking at getting someone to be a quarterback in this franchise," Newsome said.

Newsome emphasized that it wouldn't have helped the Ravens' cause to delay the retirement announcement until after the draft.

"No, because I don't think it's going to impact it," Newsome said. "I don't think Steve's retiring is going to impact anything that the Jets, the Patriots, the Dolphins, the Rams do."

Newsome joked that his cell phone is likely to be flooded with sales pitches from quarterbacks' agents. Available free-agent passers include Byron Leftwich and Daunte Culpepper.

"I can guarantee you now after this press conference is over by the time I get up to my office, I'll have 15 calls of guys trying to get into this competition," Newsome said. "All those people who are going to be calling me, be patient. I'll get back to you probably in about two weeks."

Apparently, McNair's exit strategy didn't affect a practice that was closed to reporters as the Ravens opened a three-day, voluntary minicamp.

"It's business as usual," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "You have to go out there and put that behind you, especially going through a new offense. It was fast and it was frustrating and confusing at times, so that kind of took your mind off Steve a bit. Once you step off that practice field, reality hits: No. 9 is not going to be in the huddle."

Enter No. 7, Boller, the oft-criticized former first-round draft pick whom McNair replaced in 2006. Smith, an ultra-confident former Ohio State star, is waiting in the wings.

"It's not like Kyle is coming in and he's never been in the huddle before," Mason said. "When I first got here, he was the starting quarterback and I think he commanded the huddle very well. I don't see there being a difference now than when Steve couldn't plan and Kyle had to come in."

There' are financial repercussions to McNair's retirement, too.

Due a $4 million base salary, his salary-cap figure for this season is $6.45 million.

If the Ravens use a June 1 exemption on McNair, they could save $4 million against the cap in this fiscal year with $2.45 million in dead money this year. However, that would mean absorbing $4.9 million in dead money in 2009.

One option Baltimore could exercise is take the entire $7.35 million cap hit this year, an increase of $900,000 over his current cap figure.

Meanwhile, Harbaugh's first practice since replacing Brian Billick was met with high attendance. That included middle linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerback Chris McAlister, safety Ed Reed and defensive end Trevor Pryce as well as one unanticipated arrival.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the team's designated franchise player who hasn't signed his one-year, $8.065 million contract, attended meetings as a good-will gesture to the new staff.

Suggs isn't allowed to actually practice until he either signs his deal or agrees to a long-term contract extension.

Negotiations have been complicated by Suggs filing a grievance against the Ravens. With $814,000 at stake, he wants to be classified as a defensive end and be paid the average of the top five salaries at that position.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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