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McNair testifies; decision expected by June 1

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 16, 2006) -- An arbitrator heard more than seven hours of testimony on whether the Tennessee Titans breached quarterback Steve McNair's contract by barring him from working out at the team's headquarters.

McNair, who parked his sport utility vehicle in the lot for visitors and not the players' gated area, left the hearing along with agent Bus Cook without making any comment.

Richard Berthelsen, general counsel for the players' union, said arbitrator John Feerick hoped to return a decision by June 1. The union argued that McNair should be allowed to work out or be released.

"Every player has a right, we believe, to be on club property to participate with his teammates. That's the only place where a player is protected in terms of if he's hurt and gets his salary," Berthelsen said.

"For a team to say, 'You can't be on our property because we don't want to have that risk,' then the risk is unfairly shifted to the player."

The Titans want protection from the potential liability of an enormous salary-cap hit if McNair is hurt, or they want a new, cheaper contract to reduce that cap number. The team issued a statement expressing confidence the arbitrator understands the issues in the case.

"We will not issue any further comment on the issue until a decision has been rendered," the statement said.

Negotiations between the Titans and Cook have been nearly nonexistent. Cook worked out a deal with Baltimore last month after being given permission to talk with the Ravens during the NFL draft. A trade fell through when the Titans said Baltimore's offer was insignificant.

The Titans drafted Texas quarterback Vince Young with the No. 3 overall pick.

Berthelsen said McNair testified he would prefer to remain with the Titans until he decides to retire. The 11-year veteran was the NFL's co-MVP in 2003, has won more games for this franchise than any other quarterback and led the Titans to the playoffs in four of five seasons through 2003.

Most of the hearing was spent with the Titans cross-examining McNair about his offseason workout habits, according to Berthelsen.

"It was mainly irrelevant things like, 'You weren't here much in the past, were you? So why do you want to be here now?' But it wasn't really to the point," Berthelsen said.

Asked if the Titans appear to want McNair back, the attorney said:

"It's a pity a player who has meant as much as he has to this franchise being told in his 11th year he can't be on club property, especially since he's under contract. I can't think of a player who's done more for this franchise. It is a shame that things have come to where they've come."

The Titans must either rework McNair's remaining year or release him to create enough salary-cap space to sign their rookies. They traditionally don't begin signing rookies until July.

Both McNair and his agent have said the quarterback is healthy enough to play another three or four years. But he has missed 10 games over the past two seasons because of injury, and the Titans have shown no inclination to take expensive risks with veterans.

Tennessee released Eddie George, the team's all-time leading rusher, in July 2004 only after the running back declined a pay cut and asked to be waived.

AP NEWS
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