The right call

The Baltimore Sun

Steve McNair played it right out of the Superstar Retirement Handbook. He said the right things. He did it the right way. He retired on his own terms and - best of all - walked off into the sunset without a noticeable limp.

There certainly is room to wonder whether there is more to the story than McNair and Ravens officials let on during his farewell news conference yesterday at the Castle, but it didn't really matter because it was - regardless of any internecine intrigue - the right decision for all concerned.

It was a team play by a team player, even if the team was prepared - and probably would have preferred - to go into next season with whatever McNair still had to offer.

The Ravens have been in such a strange and unwieldy situation at quarterback that McNair allowed them some clarity of direction coming off last year's disappointing 5-11 finish. He muted the debate over what the team should do during the coming draft and which of the other two quarterbacks should play if he didn't.

In reality, he represented the same uncertainty that undermined a pretty talented team last year.

McNair was coming off shoulder surgery (albeit on his nonthrowing shoulder) and he was coming back from a season in which he missed 10 games with the kind of injuries that become only more likely with each advancing year.

The Ravens were hoping against hope that he would bounce back and buy them at least one more year to develop their quarterback of the future - whoever that will be - but everyone knew McNair was one hamstring twinge from starting the whole vicious cycle all over again.

Obviously, he realized it, too. He got his shoulder fixed and spent the past couple of months preparing to return for 2008, only to come to the realization that his body was no longer responding the way it needed to for him to be a premier NFL quarterback.

Maybe he would have been more likely to keep trying under different organizational circumstances, but what's important is that he took an honest look at the situation and made the decision in a time frame that will allow the team ample opportunity to reconsider the quarterback situation before next weekend's NFL draft.

With all due respect to near-certain future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, it was the best way to go about it. McNair made the decision Wednesday, reconsidered it for 24 hours, and announced it yesterday. No tortured waffling. No leaving his teammates in limbo. No nonsense.

If there were any unspoken factors that contributed to his decision - and there are always going to be a few whispers about a surprise announcement such as this - he kept them to himself. Let's assume there weren't and congratulate him on a terrific career and a classy exit.

He could have hung on and collected his $4 million salary this year, but instead will leave the Ravens with a little extra room under the salary cap. He could have gone out there and stubbornly clung to his starting job, but he had the personal insight to conclude that wouldn't be the best thing for himself or the team.

Clearly, we all underestimated him. He knew he couldn't put as much zip on the football as he did in his prime. He knew the next nasty hit might make the rest of his life less comfortable. He knew the time had come before the Ravens did.

It's usually the other way around.

They really couldn't afford to spend the coming season playing musical quarterbacks. They need to get on with the process of finding the long-term answer at the sport's most important position.

General manager Ozzie Newsome insisted yesterday that McNair's sudden retirement would have no effect whatsoever on the Ravens' decision making during the coming draft. If you take him at his word, the only logical thing to conclude is that he was planning on drafting a quarterback regardless.

Think whatever you want, but know this: McNair did right by the Ravens - from his strong leadership during the 13-win campaign in 2006 to the shoulder operation he just underwent for a season he will not play.

He said yesterday that he wants to be remembered as a team player. No one in Baltimore should have a problem with that.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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