Ravens go slow on Stewart, McAlister

Team says it won't rush pursuit of quarterback, new deal for cornerback

March 11, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

In a week that could determine the futures of quarterback Kordell Stewart and cornerback Chris McAlister, the Ravens refuse to go on a blitz.

Team officials said yesterday that they will not aggressively court Stewart or rush to sign McAlister, their franchise player, to a long-term deal.

Stewart has received offers from the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals -- both reportedly less than $3 million a year -- and might make a decision within a week. But the Ravens, who have graded Stewart on the same level as Jeff Blake, are unlikely to be in the same price range as the Bears and Cardinals and will not actively pursue the former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback.

Although they could re-address Stewart's situation if he remains available at the end of the month, the Ravens probably will wait to see if the quarterback free-agent pool expands over the next few months.

Quarterbacks such as Denver's Brian Griese, Minnesota's Todd Bouman and Cincinnati's Akili Smith might be pushed out into the market for salary cap reasons and could draw interest from the Ravens. It is believed that Griese, who is expected to be released on June 1, would top the Ravens' list.

Former Bears starter Jim Miller, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, also could be a solid fit as a backup. Any veteran free-agent addition would have to compete with Chris Redman in training camp for the starting job.

"We are still interested in Kordell," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But this is the time to take it at a certain pace. If a deal presents itself elsewhere for Kordell, we certainly understand.

"There is no question in my mind that Kordell can be a viable starter for a number of teams in this league, but we are going to follow it at a certain pacing because that's what the business aspect of it dictates right now."

The Ravens are equally in no hurry to lock up McAlister, who was designated the team's franchise player on Feb. 20. Ravens chief negotiator Pat Moriarty went to Florida yesterday to meet with McAlister's agent, Mitch Frankel, about signing his client to a long-term deal, but the team is willing to keep the tag on McAlister. It is unknown whether Moriarty will meet with Frankel today.

If the sides can't agree on a long-term deal by Saturday, McAlister likely will play this season on a one-year, $5.9 million contract. (Franchise players receive the average salary of the top five paid at their positions.) Under league rules, the Ravens would lose the right to use a franchise tag over the length of McAlister's new contract if they strike a deal between Saturday and July 15.

The Ravens could attempt to sign McAlister to a new deal after July 15, but the additional cap room at that point would be little incentive.

The franchise tag might not be a one-year run for McAlister. The Ravens have enough cap room next year to designate him as their franchise player for the 2004 season, too.

"As Chris knows, we are prepared to have him play with the franchise tag this year," Billick said. "Certainly, we'd like Chris tied up long-term. Other than it's what we want to do -- because it's the right thing to do for Chris -- there is no imminent urgency."

Frankel described the talks as "friendly."

"It is always good to talk," Frankel said. "Chris would sign a long-term contract if the pay is consistent to other players of his caliber."

Meanwhile, Blake visited the Steelers yesterday and said that the door was not closed with the Ravens.

"I didn't leave there on a bad note," Blake told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I did everything they asked me to do. We just didn't agree on the money part of the business."

The Ravens, however, have no interest in bringing back Blake after breaking off talks last week.

When asked about his split from the Ravens, Blake said he was upset about reports that many in the Ravens' organization were troubled about Blake's reluctance to take responsibility for his role in losses and his behavior at the end of the season-ending loss to the Steelers. Moments after he threw a game-ending interception, Blake was seen laughing and hugging Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher.

"I don't think you should get personal in business," Blake said. "I think some media and people in the organization might want to get a little personal, but I'm not going to retaliate."

Blake did not deny his post-game meeting with Cowher but said team officials never questioned him about it.

"That was never said until after the fact," Blake said. "They could have said that all offseason, but they didn't say anything bad until after I started these trips."

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