McAlister negotiations put on hold by Ravens

Team will wait until July to discuss long-term deal

March 15, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' second week of free agency ended with much ado about nothing.

The team was drawing closer to signing cornerback Chris McAlister and offensive tackle Orlando Brown, but neither was locked up by day's end.

By not reaching an agreement by yesterday's league-mandated deadline, McAlister will carry the franchise tag for at least the next four months. The Ravens refuse to negotiate before July 15 because, under league rules, they would lose the right to assign the franchise tag to any other player for the length of McAlister's new deal.

"I was hopeful of getting it done [yesterday]," said Mitch Frankel, McAlister's agent. "Both sides worked in good faith. Maybe if we had another week or two, it could have gotten done."

The Ravens kept McAlister from becoming an unrestricted free agent last month by designating him as their franchise player.

To report to training camp at the end of July, McAlister would need to sign a contract, whether it's a long-term deal or the one-year tender on the table worth $5.9 million (franchise players receive the average salary of the top five paid at their positions.) If McAlister signs the tender, the Ravens still can renegotiate for a longer contract after July 15 without any penalty.

"All this means is that after the deadline in mid-July, we can start the process up again," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Team officials don't expect McAlister to report to any offseason functions. Since he is not currently under contract, he doesn't have to report to the team's workout program or minicamps.

Frankel, however, said McAlister has not determined whether he will skip the minicamps, and they likely will discuss the matter next week. But the agent indicated that McAlister is not considering holding out of training camp to protest the tag.

"Chris is working out right now and is ready and willing to accept the tag," Frankel said. "If there is no [long-term] agreement, I can't imagine him not being there the first day of training camp."

While not coming to terms with McAlister was expected, the Ravens were somewhat surprised about the dragged-out negotiations with Brown.

The sides were close to agreeing in principle to a one-year, $1 million contract Thursday. But the deal is being held up by a small clause that the agent wants put in the contract.

Despite the delay, team officials remain confident about signing the 6-foot-7, 350-pound lineman and are not worried about another right tackle debacle. It was only 10 months ago when free-agent right tackle Marcus Spears backed out of an agreement in principle with the Ravens and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The waiting game has carried over to the Ravens' quarterback and receiver situation.

The Ravens plan to address the quarterback and receiver positions in free agency and the draft, yet are in no rush to do so. They could add a receiver along the lines of Curtis Conway or Frank Sanders by the end of the month, but they could hold off on bringing in a veteran quarterback until as late as the beginning of June (the start of the second wave of free agency).

Billick, though, said the Ravens had been interested in acquiring quarterback Todd Bouman, who was traded from Minnesota to New Orleans on Thursday for a sixth-round pick. The Ravens were willing to give up a sixth-round pick for Bouman, but they asked for more time to evaluate the deal. The Vikings wanted the deal completed by that day and chose to send Bouman to the Saints.

The Bouman trade was only part of this week's thinning out of a weak free-agent quarterback pool. Kordell Stewart went to Chicago, Charlie Batch returned to Pittsburgh and Shane Matthews signed with Tampa Bay.

Now, the top available quarterbacks are perhaps former Tampa Bay backup Shaun King and ex-Bears starter Jim Miller. Veteran backups such as Cincinnati's Akili Smith and Miami's Ray Lucas could be pushed out into the market in June. Ex-Denver starter Brian Griese is expected to be released in June, but his agent said Griese would not consider the Ravens given the money they've budgeted for a free-agent quarterback ($1.5 million to $2 million per season).

At this point, the Ravens are banking on Chris Redman, who is two months removed from back surgery, to start at quarterback and Travis Taylor, their only receiver with more than one year of experience.

"Right now in free agency, the quick-fix, guaranteed, `You've got a stud at that position,' has passed," Billick said. "Now, there are guys that could be that, hold potential for that, but the league as a whole will not necessarily generate the opinion that, `OK, now they've got that position solved,' but there's going to be some of that as we move along. It's going to be at the right price as we move forward."

NOTES: The Ravens still have offers on the table for free-agent linebackers Cornell Brown and Bernardo Harris. There is a chance both could re-sign with the team as early as next week. ... The Ravens haven't become an active player in trying to bring back Sam Adams, but they are monitoring the defensive tackle's negotiations with Buffalo. If talks break down with the Bills, the Ravens could make their way back into the picture.

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