Tennessee Two-step: Titans Trash Steve McNair

I was doing my weekly radio spot this past Wednesday when my good friend, Matthew Ross, who just so happens to be the show’s host, asked me my opinion about the bizarre Tennessee Titans/Steve McNair situation.

At any rate, I told Ross – and millions of listeners world-wide – that I have never seen anything like the sad saga in my entire life.

I mean, when was the last time a franchise quarterback who unequivocally has given his heart and soul to the only team he’s known for 11 years was told to either take a pay cut or take a hike?

Never, that’s when.

Just imagine the Indianapolis Colts doing the same thing to Peyton Manning in a season or two.

Now, I really can understand the Titans’ monetary concerns, but to tell McNair to stay away from the team’s headquarters and training facility was about as cold as cold can get. As a matter of fact, I’m getting chills just writing about the entire underhanded mess.

The reality of the situation is that both sides have legitimate arguments to support their respective cases. However, the manner in which the Titans chose to handle the situation was totally classless and gives the franchise a black eye.
Once again, we’re not talking about some journeyman quarterback who has played in Tennessee for a couple of seasons and is looking to hit the jackpot. We’re talking about a guy who was the NFL’s 2003 co-MVP and who has taken this franchise within one yard of reaching to the pinnacle of professional football. I know the Titans didn’t win a Super Bowl under McNair but believe me; it wasn’t for a lack of trying by McNair.

As a matter of fact, I can firmly say that McNair is one of the toughest – if not the toughest – player in all of professional football. Anyone who knows a thing about professional football or has followed the Titans closely during McNair’s tenure, knows that the man has played through some incredibly painful injuries throughout his career. I’m not talking about hangnails and turf toes either. I’m talking about injuries that would have reduced any other man to a hospital bed in the intensive care unit.

However, I also see the Titans point of view as well.

McNair is due $9 million in salary in the final year left on his contract and that the Titans declined last month to pick up a $50 million option to stretch the deal through 2009, which left McNair with a salary cap figure of $23.46 million which takes up nearly a quarter of their cap space.

Both of those numbers are insane for a guy who is on the down side of an incredible career. However, to let McNair report for the team’s offseason conditioning program and have a trainer tell him he couldn’t work out for fear of injury, is nonsense – and more importantly – disrespectful. McNair’s agent, Bus Cook summed up my feelings succinctly, by saying that there are three options the Titans could have – or should have taken.

“It’s either rework the deal to something that makes sense for us, trade him or cut him,” Cook said.

Cook is absolutely right. Why let the man report to the training facility only to embarrass him and yourselves? The Titans – who are almost certain to draft a quarterback with the third overall pick of the draft – could have simply looked to trade McNair – and get something in return – or cut him and sever all ties.

Their press release on the situation reeked of un-professionalism.

“It was unfortunate the way this played out, but we think both Steve and Bus (Cook) understand the team’s position,” according to the Titans’ statement. “Other clubs facing the same dilemma have arrived at the same conclusion we did. We have no choice but to protect the club and its future from the possibility of having a significant amount of our salary cap at risk in a single player should he sustain a major injury. This is entirely a risk management problem.”

While I agree it is an insane cap number McNair would be carrying into the season, and one that would hinder the growth and future success of the team, I just believe the entire situation could have been handled a lot better.

“You tell the guy who’s the mainstay of the organization, the leader, to get out, that he’s not wanted, that’s pretty rough. I don’t know what Steve will do or won’t do. I imagine he would have a hard time going back over there,” Cook said. “I don’t see a way to restructure the deal and add years to a contract unless those future years have some guarantees with them. Why restructure the deal and in essence be paid the same amount of money this year that you’re going to get anyway and add years that have no guarantees with them. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The entire situation is a mess – and one that has obviously greased the skids for McNair’s departure. However, the underhanded “Tennessee Two-Step” that the Titans pulled on McNair was totally uncalled for – and about as amateurish as anything I’ve seen in a long time – besides some of Terrell Owens antics that is.

At any rate, this marriage that once seemed made in heaven is about to come to an abrupt end.

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