Sanders, McAlister to report

Defensive backs expected by Ravens this week

August 30, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As the preseason winds down, the Ravens' secondary is just getting cranked up.

Deion Sanders and Chris McAlister are scheduled to report to the Ravens this week, elevating the team's defensive backfield among the NFL's elite.

Team officials confirmed last night that Sanders is expected to end his three-year retirement and play for the Ravens, which ends two weeks of speculation on whether the seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback would come back to play nickel back (fifth defensive back).

The Ravens remain unsure of the day of his arrival this week - the sides are still trying to set a timetable - but ruled out his playing in Thursday's preseason finale at the New York Giants. Team officials declined to comment further on Sanders until the deal is complete.

The wait will not be as long for McAlister. The All-Pro said yesterday that he will end his monthlong absence and report to the Ravens' practice facility today despite continued frustration over a contract dispute.

"I'll see you at work tomorrow," McAlister said yesterday.

McAlister, 27, missed all of training camp and the first three preseason games this summer to protest being named the team's franchise player for the second straight year, which essentially takes him off the free-agent market.

"The main point is that for two years he's tried to sign a long-term contract with the team, and in our opinion, the team is not willing to compensate him equitably compared to the best players at his position," said Mitch Frankel, McAlister's agent.

The market value for Pro Bowl cornerbacks in their prime was set this offseason by the Denver Broncos' Champ Bailey (seven years, $63 million, with an $18 million signing bonus).

Frankel has repeatedly said he is seeking a contract worth a similar total value. According to a league source, the Ravens haven't budged much from last year's offer that included a $10 million signing bonus.

"They asked him to come out last year and be more consistent and prove to them that he's worth it," Frankel said. "And I think he went out there and showed that if he's not the best corner in the game, then he is surely one of the top two or three. I don't know what else he needs to prove."

The Ravens have said they would not engage in negotiations until McAlister signed his one-year tender worth $7.1 million. After he does so today, the sides will restart talks later this week.

"We have been very respectful of Chris' position as a franchise player, and we will continue to do so," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We are very, very motivated about getting a long-term contract with Chris."

But based on previous talks, Frankel said he's "not overly optimistic" about a new deal.

McAlister is scheduled to take his physical this morning and attempt to make the afternoon practice. If he suits up and proves he is in shape, Billick said the five-year starter could play a few snaps in the final preseason game.

McAlister suggested in June that his off-the-field problems might be the biggest obstacle in the Ravens committing a sizable contract to him. McAlister was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana in 2000 and with driving under the influence last summer. Charges were dropped in both cases.

Billick later said McAlister's conduct has never been an issue in negotiations.

These stalled talks have left McAlister more apathetic than enthusiastic about returning.

Asked about the chances of ever reaching a long-term deal with the Ravens, McAlister said: "Right now, it doesn't even matter, honestly. I don't know what's going to happen. The game is what it is."

In a few days, McAlister could be practicing alongside Sanders, a cornerback he has long idolized.

Sanders, 37, who is considered one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history, would play a reserve role with the Ravens as their nickel back, the biggest need on a stout Ravens defense.

Sanders has 48 career interceptions, including eight returned for touchdowns. His last season was 2000, when he had a solid yet unspectacular year with the Washington Redskins.

Sanders began contemplating a return a month ago after being approached by two close friends: linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Corey Fuller. The Ravens had a void in their secondary when nickel back Dale Carter was lost for the season with a blood clot in his lung.

But Sanders wouldn't make his decision official until he underwent intensive workouts at his home outside Dallas. He trained twice a day and went against former Pro Bowl receiver Tony Martin at the end of last week.

Sanders' personal trainer, Tom Shaw, told ESPN that Sanders was recently clocked in the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.

When Sanders reports to the Ravens, McAlister will extend him a handshake as well as the chance to wear his No. 21 jersey - with a catch.

"If he wants to buy it at my price," McAlister said, "he can have it."

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Ravens (2-1) at New York Giants (1-2)

Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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