McNair first, not last

The Baltimore Sun

Is Jonathan Ogden next?

There could be a number of senior citizens leaving the Ravens' roster now that veteran quarterback Steve McNair announced his retirement.

The Camp Cream Puff training camps and Club Med approach to games are over. They ended when John Harbaugh replaced Brian Billick as coach.

McNair, 35, seemed to have the right intentions about playing again, and he might have been the Ravens' top quarterback in 2008. But Harbaugh changed those plans.

Harbaugh scheduled minicamps almost every other week throughout the summer. He wanted regular attendance by players during the offseason weight-lifting program. He wanted McNair to lose weight because he had ballooned to 250 pounds since the season ended.

There is a new work ethic on the Ravens, and McNair basically said yesterday, thanks, but no thanks.

"I've been thinking about this since December," McNair said of retiring. "I wanted to see how my body was going to react. My mind said yes. My body said no, what are you doing? I can't compete like I used to. My body doesn't allow me to play at the high level that I'm used to playing at."

McNair has never been an offseason workout nut, but a game day warrior. In fact, he was often criticized in Tennessee because some thought if he improved his offseason conditioning, it might cut down on his injuries.

One Titans coach said of McNair when he first came to the Ravens: "He isn't a great team player during the week, but there is not one player in the league I'd rather have on my team on Sundays. That's when he puts on the Superman cape."

With Harbaugh, that was going to change. The Ravens need a new energy, and Harbaugh has to change the culture of this club. He wanted his starting quarterback prepared for the 2008 season.

McNair seemed committed. He went through a rigorous rehabilitation process in the winter to strengthen a torn rotator cuff in his nonthrowing left shoulder.

He regularly attended team weight-training sessions that began March 17. Everyone at the Castle was impressed.

But McNair's body wasn't going to be able to handle the rigors of what Harbaugh was going to demand, not for an entire season. With Billick, McNair basically called his own shots.

That wasn't going to work now.

Unfortunately for McNair, he is at the point where he has to work harder if he wants to maintain greatness, or sustain a career.

Other Ravens have done it. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis isn't as great as he used to be, but he has one of the most strenuous training programs of any player on the team.

Tight end Shannon Sharpe was a fitness freak, and safety Rod Woodson stayed in great shape to extend his playing career here. Both got a lot of help from Billick, whose soft approach helped draw veteran players like defensive end Trevor Pryce to Baltimore.

But none of those players' bodies were as beaten down as McNair's. In 13 seasons, McNair has had major surgery on nearly every part of his body.

It was depressing at times watching him play last season. Underneath his shoulder pads, his body was held together by tape and bandages. His back was S-shaped after some games.

There will be some who will criticize McNair because he waited until nine days before the draft to announce his retirement. They will say he put the Ravens in a bind because every team in the NFL now knows they need a quarterback.

But the Ravens still have a chance to draft one of college football's top quarterbacks in the first or second round, and they'll probably walk away with Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Brian Brohm or Chad Henne.

Even if McNair had played in 2008, realistically, we could have expected only moderate improvement, not the McNair who was a four-time Pro Bowl player and the league's co-Most Valuable Player in 2003.

McNair deserved this time to work things out. He has been one of the game's top warriors. As one, he deserved to be cut some slack at times. But Harbaugh is the new coach trying to breathe some life into a franchise loaded with veteran players.

Veteran players like Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle and Pryce have to take notice. Somewhere out there, Ogden is watching. He is thinking about the good old days with Billick, and the new era that has begun with Harbaugh.

Is his retirement announcement next?

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