McAlister contract may miss deadline

Ravens likely will give cornerback franchise tag if talks run past Feb. 24

February 10, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

A long-term contract between the Ravens and Chris McAlister is not expected to be completed before the NFL's Feb. 24 deadline to name franchise players, the agent for the Pro Bowl cornerback said yesterday.

"We both have laid out our positions and I think we're pretty far apart at this point," said Mitch Frankel, McAlister's California-based agent. "I'm sure we'll either talk or meet one more time before the franchise date. But I don't have any great optimistic expectations that something will get done by then."

If the sides are unable to reach a multi-year agreement in two weeks, the Ravens likely will assign the franchise tag to McAlister, which basically keeps him off the free-agent market. Once a player is designated a franchise player, it shortens the window on negotiating but doesn't eliminate the possibility of a new deal.

When asked if the Ravens expected to sign McAlister to a new contract before the franchise deadline, general manager Ozzie Newsome said, "I don't have a crystal ball."

It is believed that McAlister is seeking a signing bonus worth between $16 million and $19 million on a long-term deal. In comparison, the New England Patriots' Ty Law, who is considered the league's most complete cornerback, signed a seven-year, $50 million extension before the 1999 season that included a $14.2 million signing bonus.

McAlister, 26, who appeared in his first Pro Bowl on Sunday, played under the franchise tag last season and earned $5.9 million. If he is named the Ravens' franchise player again, he would receive a one-year deal worth $7.1 million (a 20 percent raise from last year's contract).

The tag virtually locks him into returning since teams would have to match the contract and give the Ravens two first-round draft picks as compensation to sign him away. No team is expected to do so.

Frankel said the Ravens have not informed him in this round of talks if they plan to give McAlister the franchise tag again.

"They told me that in the past," Frankel said. "They have not told me that recently."

All indications point to the Ravens giving McAlister the tag if no deal is reached.

"We're confident that Chris is going to be a Raven [next season]," Newsome said.

If the Ravens put the tag on McAlister, they would have until March 17 to reach a long-term deal without penalty. Under league rules, if the Ravens miss that deadline, they would lose the right to use a franchise tag over the length of McAlister's new contract on any deal struck before July 14.

Unlike many players around the league, McAlister did not hold out of training camp to protest the tag last season. Frankel said he has yet to discuss with McAlister how he would handle the tag this time.

"I think Chris will do what makes the most sense for his career and, if he's going to be a Raven, for the Ravens' organization," Frankel said.

A Ravens' first-round pick in 1999, McAlister had a breakthrough season last year.

Rebounding from early-season troubles, which included getting benched in Week 3 after missing curfew, he shut down such elite receivers as Denver's Rod Smith, Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith, St. Louis' Torry Holt, Miami's Chris Chambers and San Francisco's Terrell Owens.

Quarterbacks shied away from throwing to his side, and McAlister finished second on the Ravens with 16 passes broken up and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

At this point, Frankel said he doesn't see a quick turnaround happening in negotiations.

"Looking through mine and Chris' eyes right now, if what we've been talking about is where they wind up or are close [to that], there is no basis for us to believe anything is going to get accomplished," he said.

NOTE: Wearing an ESPN microphone at Sunday's Pro Bowl, linebacker Ray Lewis was heard recruiting Owens to sign with the Ravens. Standing beside the potential free-agent receiver before the game, Lewis stared at the camera and said, "I'm putting it out on national television: He's coming to Baltimore." Free agency begins March 3.

Sun staff writer Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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