By Mark Howard, Commentary
March 31, 2006
It made us all look at Stevie and wonder.
A recent ESPN report from NFL insider Chris Mortensen, claiming Steve McNair told the Titans he doesnít want to tutor a rookie quarterback, might have been the beginning of the end of No. 9 in Tennessee.
As the starter, McNair has made it clear he wants a contract extension beyond the 2006 season. In addition, agent Bus Cook hasnít minced words while demanding top quarterback money, in the neighborhood of a $16 million bonus, for his client.
Since McNair hasnít been an elite quarterback since 2003 ó and please donít bring up his by default Pro Bowl in February ó and has shown few signs of returning to that level, it should come as no surprise that talks over a new deal have stalled. That leaves McNair with one year left on his current deal and not happy about it.
Which brings us back to Mortensenís report, which, if true, is a transparent attempt by the leverage-less McNair to try to force Titans General Manager Floyd Reese to release him.
There is little doubt the Titans with go after Vince Young, Matt Leinart or Jay Cutler with their first-round selection in the upcoming draft.
The Titans have many concerns about McNair. Will he rededicate himself to becoming a better practice player and put in the necessary work with his new receiving corps? McNair says heís willing to do that.
Then thereís his game preparation. Itís no secret McNair is not an avid tape watcher. In his younger days, when he could get out of the pocket and improvise like nobody else, it worked for him. But now McNairís ad-lib skills have diminished.
While all of that isnít an ideal environment to nurture a baby quarterback that the Titans have invested their future in, it still doesnít make McNair a bad guy or a bad quarterback.
There more than a few things that would make you doubt the accuracy of Mortensenís story, especially if you know anything about McNair. For starters, heís a genuinely good guy who is popular among his teammates. Thereís also the fact that over the years McNair has served as a surrogate father for Young, and itís hard to imagine him not helping his close friend if the Longhorn standout dons Titans blue.
But thereís an even bigger reason to be skeptical. Several former teammates have detailed over the years of how when McNair came to the Houston Oilers in 1995 as a rookie, he was treated horribly by the teamís then-starting quarterback Chris Chandler. Many insist there were times Chandler, in an effort to sabotage his heir apparent, went out of his way to give McNair the wrong information when asked about a play or a formation. Itís a subject so sensitive McNair still wonít talk about it, even a decade later.
After two straight sub-par seasons, the 33-year-old McNair is still a better-than-average quarterback who can help a lot of teams. But he is not interested in being a one-year stopgap while his successor is groomed. Still, he represents a $23 million cap hit, which the Titans might ultimately decide is too rich for their blood and go with Billy Volek. If a new deal canít be worked out, McNair still might get cut.
So even if McNair said what ESPN claims, chalk it up as a negotiation play. This is simply a case of a guy who wants to get paid what he thinks heís worth. McNair figures if itís not with the Titans, than maybe it will be with somebody else.