McAlister, Ravens reach deal

Team's No. 1 pick agrees in principle to four-year contract

Terms not disclosed

Cornerback wanted to be in camp on time

July 24, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Since April 17, the day he became the Ravens' first-round draft pick, rookie cornerback Chris McAlister has said he would report to his first NFL training camp on time.

McAlister's prediction came to fruition yesterday, when the Ravens and the rookie agreed in principle to a four-year contract.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and McAlister is not expected to sign the contract before Monday.

The deal most likely is a bit more than the four-year package that second-year cornerback Duane Starks accepted a year ago. Both Starks and McAlister were selected as the 10th overall pick. Starks signed a $7 million deal that included a $3.1 million signing bonus.

The timing of the agreement -- five days before players are scheduled to report to Western Maryland College -- was somewhat surprising. Eugene Parker, McAlister's agent, is not known for getting his high-priced clients into camp on time, let alone well in advance of the reporting date. Only six first-round picks out of 31 had been signed before the McAlister agreement was announced.

Barring an unexpected setback as Parker and the Ravens complete the deal, McAlister will become the first top draft pick not to hold out of a Ravens training camp since Jonathan Ogden made it to Westminster barely on time in 1996.

McAlister, the son of former Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots running back James McAlister, was visiting relatives in Detroit yesterday and unavailable for comment. He is expected to be in Baltimore by Monday.

For the past six weeks, the two sides had appeared destined to work out a four-year contract. The main obstacle to an agreement had been the amount of the signing bonus, which is guaranteed.

"The biggest thing for me as a father is to see my son out there playing. I don't see the need to quibble over money," said James McAlister from his Los Angeles home yesterday. "The best thing a player can do is play football. I'm sure the agreement they have reached is something we can live with. I'm excited.

"I know Chris loves the game of football. I've always told him the rewards you get will come out of the hard work you put in. From the time he started playing Pop Warner ball all the way through college, Chris was never late. And he was not going to start now."

Parker did not return phone calls yesterday.

Ravens coach Brian Billick credited McAlister's insistence on getting to camp on time as a driving force behind reaching an agreement early. By taking the field with the rest of his teammates on Thursday, McAlister, 6 feet 1, 206 pounds, will have a clear path to beat out veteran DeRon Jenkins for the starting job at right cornerback.

"This is huge. A lot of credit has to go to Chris McAlister. He was very motivated and very straightforward with Eugene. He said `Do your job, but I am going to be in camp on time,' " Billick said.

"Chris has a long way to go, but we expect him to be a big contributor this year. He clearly is already part of our nickel and dime packages, and he has a chance to be a starter."

McAlister, 22, brings a package of size, speed and smarts that had the Ravens salivating on draft day. In three years as a starter at Arizona, McAlister earned All-Pacific-10 first-team honors in each season. Last fall, he was a unanimous first-team All-American.

McAlister produced 122 tackles and 18 interceptions over three seasons, the third-highest career total in school history. He also averaged 25.5 yards on 43 kickoff returns and 20.8 yards on five punt returns over three seasons. He is only the seventh player in college football history to return a kickoff, punt and interception for a touchdown in the same season (1998).

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, breathed a sigh of relief yesterday, knowing the team did not face another holdout scenario. In 1997, linebacker Peter Boulware missed all of training camp. Last year, Starks held out for 16 days.

"Anybody that's around the NFL knows there are going to be holdouts, and anybody also realizes that having a player like [McAlister] in camp on time is the best thing for the team and the player," Newsome said. "We wanted him here, and he wanted to be in training camp on time. When two sides have those goals in mind, you get a deal done."

With McAlister nearly in the fold, the Ravens also will resume efforts to sign their three remaining draft picks -- fourth-rounders Brandon Stokley and Edwin Mulitalo and seventh-rounder Anthony Poindexter.

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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