Blake, Stokley depart Ravens

QB heads to Cardinals for 3 years, $7.5 million

wide receiver joins Colts

Both more than double offers here

McAlister progress slow as deadline nears, but franchise tag available

March 13, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens officially lost quarterback Jeff Blake and receiver Brandon Stokley to free agency yesterday and gained no ground in negotiations to lock up cornerback Chris McAlister to a long-term contract.

Blake, who had an abrupt split with the Ravens when talks ended March 6, reportedly agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth $7.5 million with the Arizona Cardinals, and Stokley reached an agreement in principle on a two-year, $2.9 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

"The commitment of the coaches and the organization make it a lot easier to make a decision," Blake told the Associated Press about the Cardinals. "If you are unsure, then it's not the place to be, but the commitment was there."

Blake's departure came at no surprise, but his sizable payday did.

According to ESPN, the 11-year quarterback will earn $3.5 million for 2003 (which includes signing bonus and base salary), doubling the first-year compensation in the Ravens' offer. The Ravens broke off talks with Blake when he decided to visit other teams.

Blake is expected to start this season as second-year quarterback Josh McCown develops.

"There's nothing outstanding with the contract," said Ralph Cindrich, Blake's agent. "It's in line with what a starter should make before possibly handing the job over. [But] I still think the Ravens are an extremely smart organization. As a business, they operate prudently."

Stokley, a fourth-round pick by the Ravens in 1999, caught 60 passes over four injury-marred seasons and is slated to replace former teammate Qadry Ismail as the Colts' No. 3 receiver.

Stokley will be remembered for two of the biggest catches in team history - beating New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn for the Ravens' first touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV and ending the team's five-game touchdown drought in 2000 on his second career catch.

Considered by some Ravens officials as a potential No. 1 receiver when healthy, Stokley pulled in 24 passes in the eight games last season before a foot injury sidelined him for the final seven games. The Ravens two weeks ago offered Stokley a one-year deal worth the league minimum ($530,000), which prompted the team's fourth-leading receiver from last season to test the free-agent market.

"What it boiled down to was the money," said Stokley, who will miss all the offseason minicamps as his foot heals but expects to be fully recovered by training camp. "Indy was able to offer a lot more than the Ravens. It's going to be very difficult to leave, but I look forward to a new beginning."

With Stokley gone, the Ravens' receiving corps is composed of Travis Taylor and four second-year players - Ron Johnson, Randy Hymes, Javin Hunter and Marc Lester.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who was attending the league's competition committee meetings, and coach Brian Billick, who was traveling to watch individual college workouts, could not be reached to comment.

Meanwhile, with tomorrow's deadline looming, it remains uncertain whether the Ravens will be able to sign McAlister to a long-term deal.

Negotiations reached a standstill yesterday as the Ravens and McAlister's agent, Mitch Frankel, did not talk. Ravens chief negotiator Pat Moriarty had spent Monday and Tuesday in Florida, where he had lengthy and productive meetings with Frankel.

The sides have to reach a deal by 4 p.m. tomorrow or it becomes more likely that McAlister will play this season under the franchise tag, which amounts to a one-year, $5.9 million contract. By designating McAlister as their franchise player, the Ravens kept one of the most promising defenders in the league from becoming an unrestricted free agent by paying him the average salary of the five highest-paid cornerbacks.

The Ravens, however, would prefer to sign McAlister to a long-term deal and remove the tag. But time is running out. 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.

So, if a deal can't be completed by tomorrow, the Ravens probably would not restart negotiations until after July 15.

McAlister might not be able to shed the tag after this season. The Ravens have enough cap room next year to designate him as their franchise player for the 2004 season, too.

His agent was traveling yesterday and did not return calls.

"We don't have to get it done in any way, shape or form," Billick said this week. "It doesn't affect our cap issue. We'd like to get it done out of respect for Chris. We are motivated to do it. But we don't have to do this out of necessity because we're prepared and structured to go forward in the form that it is now as the franchise player."

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