NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 31, 2006) -- 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.
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.
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.
Tennessee allowed McNair's agent, Bus Cook, to talk with the Baltimore Ravens during the NFL draft in April after the team drafted Vince Young of Texas with the No. 3 overall pick. Cook worked out a $12 million deal, but a trade fell through when the Titans called the Ravens' offer insignificant.
McNair is under contract for the 2006 season and due a salary of $9 million.
Cook did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press. The Titans are not scheduled for another on-field practice session again until June 13.
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.
The Associated Press News Service
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