Ravens will place franchise tag on McAlister

With move, cornerback likely to be Raven in '03

February 20, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The Ravens will place the franchise-player tag on cornerback Chris McAlister today, the final day NFL teams can use the designation.

The move likely will keep McAlister with the club for another year, but it's expected he'll skip the offseason workout program and voluntary camps. As is the case with many franchise players, McAlister probably will not take part in non-mandatory team functions until a long-term contract is reached.

The Ravens, however, do not expect him to hold out of training camp, slated to start in late July. Before then, the Ravens have two voluntary passing camps, a voluntary minicamp and a mandatory minicamp between May and June.

"Chris and I have discussed that, and I have to respect that," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Certainly, I would prefer for him to be here. My primary concern, as we've communicated with Chris, is that if you are not here, what are you doing to make sure that when we get to training camp, you are in the best possible shape to produce at the level we all want you to produce?

"Chris understands my concerns of him not being around. But I appreciate the fact that this may be something he has to do."

As a franchise player, McAlister will be offered a one-year tender worth the average salary of the top five players at his position - $5.9 million. Although another team can try to sign McAlister, the Ravens have the right to match the offer, and if they choose not to, they would be awarded two-first round draft choices.

Despite the tag, McAlister and Ravens officials can continue to negotiate. If the sides agree upon a long-term contract by March 15, the Ravens would not lose the right to use the franchise tag on another player through the length of McAlister's deal, as was previously the case in the NFL.

McAlister and the Ravens are working on a five-year contract that would include a $7 million to $9 million signing bonus.

"We hope to have a contract done by mid-March, so we won't even have to come to anything like that," said McAlister's agent, Mitch Frankel, regarding the possibility of McAlister not participating in non-mandatory team functions. "We expect to have a better idea about the contract status come Monday."

The Ravens have used the franchise tag just once - on guard Wally Williams in 1998 - since moving to Baltimore. Williams and the club never agreed on a new contract, and he left as an unrestricted free agent the next season.

Now that McAlister is essentially off the market, Ravens officials will meet with the agents for quarterback Jeff Blake and guard Edwin Mulitalo this weekend in Indianapolis at the NFL combine in hopes of getting deals done before Feb. 28. Both players would become unrestricted free agents then.

Of the two, Blake is the bigger concern. The Ravens want to sign Blake to a multi-year contract and bring him back as the starter, but the veteran might want to see if he can entice a more lucrative deal from another team after starting 10 games last season.

"What [Blake] and his agent choose to do by way of going into the free-agent market, there is nothing we can do about that other than continue to negotiate a deal here that we think is in his best interest and to make sure he understands we want him back here," Billick said. "If he indeed does go into free agency, that is something he is choosing to do and we'll have to respect."

Mulitalo, a starter on the left side of the line with Jonathan Ogden the past 3 1/2 seasons, seemed confident he would remain a Raven.

"I think things are going well, and hopefully we can get this thing done sometime next week," Mulitalo said.

NOTE: Contrary to published reports, the Ravens have not signed a free-agent receiver from the Arena Football League and have no plans to do so.

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