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Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Arbiter: Titans must let McNair work out at facilities news services

The Tennessee Titans must allow Steve McNair to work out on their property as long as he has a contract with the team, an arbitrator ruled Wednesday.

Steve McNair

Arbitrator John Feerick heard more than seven hours of testimony May 16 on charges that the Titans breached McNair's contract by barring him from working out at the team's headquarters. The union filed the grievance, arguing he should be allowed to work out on the property or be released.

General Counsel Richard Berthelsen called it a victory for the NFL Players Association and McNair, but he said it was unfortunate they had to go through this process.

"We've said since the beginning that this was a clear violation of his contract with the club," Berthelsen said.

The Titans originally told McNair on April 3 he wasn't allowed to work out on the property because they feared the liability of a $23.46 million salary cap hit if McNair got hurt. Negotiations to reduce that cap number have been nearly nonexistent.

Titans general counsel Steve Underwood said he believed the decision reflected some quirks of Tennessee state law but did not find that the team violated the league's collective bargaining agreement.

The Titans said they would welcome McNair back into the offseason program.

"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," Underwood said in statement issued by the team.

Bus Cook, McNair's agent, told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that McNair probably won't report to the facility until Monday because the quarterback is hosting a youth football camp in the Nashville, TN., area the rest of this week. The Titans are not scheduled for another on-field practice session again until June 13.

"I guess we'll find out right away of what this was about," said Cook of the lockout. "Did they really fear the consequences of an injury or were they trying to force Steve's hand on taking a new three-year contract that would pay him less than money than he would make with the Baltimore Ravens in one year?"

The NFL said it was gratified the arbitrator rejected numerous claims from McNair and the union, including that he be released from his contract and be paid for the missed workouts.

"The decision also makes clear that the club's actions did not constitute discipline and that players do not 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," league officials said in a statement.

McNair, who is under contract for the 2006 season and due a salary of $9 million, has the parameters of a deal established with the Ravens that is believed to pay him $12 million in his first year, counting bonuses. But the Ravens and Titans stalemated on draft pick compensation in trade talks after Tennessee granted McNair permission to speak with the Baltimore club.

The Ravens have offered a fourth-round choice that could conditionally upgrade to a third-round pick based on McNair's playtime and performance. The Titans wanted a third rounder that could upgrade to a second-round choice.

If no trade is made, or the Titans do not release McNair, Cook said the quarterback will plan to play for Tennessee in '06.

"Steve wasn't the one who locked himself out of camp," Cook told Mortensen. "There's been a lot of damage done but he doesn't have a choice of where he plays if push comes to shove and [the Titans] don't do anything. He's under contract so, yes, he'll play."

The 33-year-old McNair has won more games for the Titans than any other quarterback and helped lead the team to the playoffs in four of five seasons through 2003.

But releasing him would create some much-needed salary cap space for a team that doesn't have enough room to start signing its rookies. The team traditionally doesn't begin signing rookies until July.

After slashing payroll and fielding the NFL's youngest team last season, the Titans finished 4-12. McNair played in 14 games, but his quarterback rating was 18th in the league at 82.4.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.