McNair's contract to pay $20 million in first three years

The contract signed by quarterback Steve McNair with the Baltimore Ravens is for five years with a maximum value of $32 million, but from a practical standpoint, the deal for the former Tennessee Titans star is structured more as a three-year contract that will pay him $20 million.

And three seasons probably reflects the shelf-life Baltimore officials realistically feel McNair, 33, still has remaining as an impact-type player.

According to salary documents reviewed by ESPN.com, McNair will receive a payment of $11 million, which is characterized in the documents as a "roster" bonus and not a "signing" bonus, on Sept. 1. His base salary for 2006, as previously reported, is $1 million. That gives McNair a cap charge of $3.2 million for the 2006 season, a very palatable number for a starting quarterback.

By comparison, McNair's cap charge for 2006 in Tennessee was to have been an unmanageable $23.46 million had he remained with the Titans, one of the elements that contributed to the trade which sent him to the Ravens in return for a fourth-round draft choice. Even having dealt McNair, the Titans must carry a $14.46 million cap charge this year.

The Ravens owe McNair a $1 million option bonus next spring and his base salaries rise to $3 million for 2007 and to $4 million for 2008. The salary cap charges for those two seasons are $5.45 million for 2007 and $6.45 million for 2008. The total payout to McNair for those three seasons, counting bonuses and base salaries, is $20 million.

After 2008, however, McNair's price tag jumps dramatically, as do his cap charges. The contract calls for base salaries of $6 million each in 2009 and 2010, and cap hits of $8.45 million apiece for those seasons. Even with the anticipated rise in the per-team salary cap for those two seasons, beyond the ceilings of $102 million for 2006 and of $109 million for 2007 that were established when the NFL and the NFL Players Association, McNair's cap numbers in 2009 and 2010 could be unwieldy.

That could mean the Ravens might be forced to restructure the contract after three seasons. There is also the possibility that McNair, who will be 36 after the third year of the contract, could be released then.

Baltimore officials have already acknowledged that the 12th-year veteran, the league's co-most valuable player in 2003, will supplant former first-round draft choice Kyle Boller as the starter.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.