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Gerald McRath braces for his contract year

Baltimore Ravens v Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 18: Gerald McRath #51 of the Tennessee Titans celebrates after a big play during a game against the Baltimore Ravens at the LP Field on September 18, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Ravens 26 to 13. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

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Titans linebacker Gerald McRath realizes that, if he’s ever going to take his game to the next level, the time to do it is now.

As David Climer of the Tennessean explains it, McRath is entering the final year of his rookie contract, putting him in line for a potential payday on the open market -- or an extension with his current team. But he realizes that, in the end, he may have to leave Tennessee.

“In my situation, it’s like your senior year in college,” McRath told Climer. “You don’t know what’s going to happen after this year, so you have to take full advantage of your opportunities.

“If you go out, you want to go out with a bang.”

He may indeed be going out, with a bang or otherwise, given the depth the team has at the position. The Titans have beefed up via the draft and free agency, in part because McRath hasn’t lived up to the potential he flashed in his rookie season. In 2010, he was suspended four games for violating the league’s steroids policy. Last year, in the first season of a new coaching regime, McRath lost his starting job to rookie Akeem Ayers.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” McRath said. “Maybe everything that has happened set me up for this point in time. Maybe it’s the break that I needed.

“I’m still here. I’m still in the locker room. I still have an opportunity. That’s more than I could ever ask for. At the end of the day, it’s up to me and what I decide to do -- the output and the work I put into it.”

The veteran linebacker market has softened in recent years, with few getting solid money in free agency and even fewer getting huge money. In the end, anything other than a great season could launch the one-year-minimum phase of his career.

The good news for McRath could be that the coach who drafted him now coaches the Rams. If the Titans don’t want to bring McRath back, he could find a taker in Jeff Fisher.