Behind Enemy Lines: 7/23/04

Wondering what's going on behind enemy lines? Are the Ravens going to be able to sign Chris McAlister (pictured)? TheInsiders give us the latest from Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens may have to prepare themselves to do without Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister for all of training camp.

McAlister indicated that he isn't close to signing his one-year, $7.1 million tender as the team's franchise player, and the Ravens won't negotiate a long-term deal until he does so.

League rules allowed the Ravens to restart negotiations with McAlister on July 15.

"I think the intentions of the player, the agent and the organization is to enter into a long-term agreement," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But that will only happen after he signs the tender."

McAlister needs to sign the tender before suiting up for training camp, which begins July 30. If he doesn't sign his tender, the six-year starter is under no obligation to report to camp because he isn't under contract.

"Chris wants to sign a long-term deal with the Ravens," said Mitch Frankel, McAlister's agent. "But based on our last conversations, I'm not optimistic."

Frankel has repeatedly said he wanted the contract of Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (seven years, $63 million with $18 million signing bonus) to set the value for McAlister since both are relatively the same age (mid-20s) and are considered among the top five at their position.

McAlister established himself as an elite cornerback last year, when he shut down such big-name receivers as Denver's Rod Smith, Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith, St. Louis' Torry Holt, Miami's Chris Chambers and San Francisco's Terrell Owens.

If the Ravens can't lock up McAlister to a long-term deal this year, it becomes increasingly tougher to fit him under the salary cap as the franchise player. To franchise him for a third straight season, the Ravens would need to offer him a one-year, $8.5 million tender, which is a 20 percent increase from his current deal.

"We believe Chris McAlister is the best cornerback in the National Football League; we concede that," coach Brian Billick said. "The question becomes, what do you pay the best cornerback in the NFL? That is what the negotiations are about now."


  • The Ravens were so impressed with Dale Carter this offseason that they named him their nickel back before training camp. They also expect the rest of a young secondary to benefit from playing with the 12-year veteran cornerback.
    "He has been in the game a long time, just watching him move and his technique can really help," second-year safety Gerome Sapp said. "He knows when to stick and when to bump a guy."
  • The Ravens are unsure when tight end Trent Smith will be able to participate in a full practice. He missed all of last season with a leg injury and was projected to be the team's No. 3 tight end.
  • The Ravens remain in talks with their seven draft picks but have yet to sign any of them. Training camp begins July 30 at McDaniel College.
  • Of the 37 players drafted since 1999, 28 remain on the Ravens roster heading into training camp.
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "Will we lead the league in passing? Probably not. We are going to run the ball 500-plus times because it would be foolish not to. So it is not a matter of pulling back the running game to get more passing. So the productivity of the passing game needs to feed of itself in order to increase and become a better passing attack." -- Coach Brian Billick on the realistic improvement of his passing attack this season.

Cincinnati Bengals

Hamilton County, Ohio, is now suing the Bengals and the NFL and seeking $600 million in damages related Paul Brown Stadium.

On July 12, U.S. U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel granted the county's request to take over a taxpayer's lawsuit that accuses the Bengals of illegally using their monopoly power to get a new stadium and favorable lease terms.

The judge's ruling also will allow county officials to begin requesting sensitive internal Bengals and NFL documents relevant to the case and to begin interviewing league personnel.

"This order says that discovery starts now," says Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. "We'll finally be able to get at the information that was withheld from this community from the very beginning."

The federal lawsuit contends that team president Mike Brown falsely claimed in the mid-1990s that the Bengals needed a new stadium to make enough money to field a competitive team. The league added to the pressure by limiting the number of new franchises, forcing cities to compete to get and keep teams.

Hamilton County voters responded by approving a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for both Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Bengals) and the Cincinnati Reds' Great American Ball Park. Bond payments and stadium operations will cost the county almost $1.15 billion over the next 28 years.

The trial could take place in January or February, said Stanley Chesley, the attorney hired to represent the county.

"This is a very important decision," Chesley said. "I think this will be a landmark antitrust case."

Spokesmen for the Bengals and the NFL said they had not yet reviewed Spiegel's ruling and could not comment.


  • Bengals linebackers coach Ricky Hunley was the only active coach assigned to the NFL-Stanford Program for Managers held this summer at Stanford University. Hunley took a sampling of classes in salary cap management, team economics and stadium management.
  • His reaction: "I was surprised at how much money goes into running a NFL team," Hunley told the Bengals' team-owned website. "How much money goes into benefits (on top of salaries) surprised me. The way the league is now, if you're going to a head coach, you have to know a little bit about everything from a business standpoint."
  • "Pro Football Weekly" is the latest publication to predict an 8-8 record and a second-place AFC North division finish for the Bengals in 2004.
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to have to do something exciting to get it done. Expectations are definitely high. We have to prepare just as hard or harder than we did last year." -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, on improving from 8-8 to make the playoffs in 2004.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Wide receiver Lee Mays learned some ropes from Plaxico Burress last year and used that this spring to gain even more with Burress's absence from workouts.

Mays, like Burress, is a split end and his chances grew as Burress holdout continued through every workout. Mays got more chances in practice with the top quarterbacks and he's ready to take the next step in his third season. He was their No. 5 receiver last year.

"He's taking good use of the opportunity," said receivers coach Bruce Arians.

Mays hopes to see his mentor, Burress, in training camp on time, as promised.

"Plax is a great, great guy," said Mays. "He's really taught me a lot of things. I look at him as a big brother. He really meant a lot, working on my releases and my route-running, just really helping me out."

Mays did not speak with Burress this spring, but can't wait to see him when the players report to St. Vincent College in Latrobe on July 30.

"We really miss him," Mays said. "We don't understand what's going on. We know it's kind of hard for us and everything right now. Personally, I look up to the guy. He's a great receiver and everything. He taught me a lot of things. Hopefully, we'll see him in training camp."

Burress talked enthusiastically about his understudy last year.

"He's probably the most improved player on the field right now," Burress said. "I've seen this guy take tremendous strides. He's probably, to this point, taken more strides than I had from my rookie to second year."

Mays, a sixth-round draft choice in 2002 from Texas-El-Paso, caught 71 passes for 1,098 yards and a school-record 15 touchdowns as a junior. It looked as though he would claim the No. 4 job last year behind the top trio of Hines Ward, Burress and Antwaan Randle El. But he lost it to Chris Doering.

"I was disappointed in myself," said Mays, who is 6-2, 200 pounds. "They felt those were the best four receivers and I did too. Chris Doering came in and did a great job for us last year. I'm just trying to get ready for this fall and make some plays this year."


  • CB Richard Colclough has agreed to a four-year deal worth $3.27 million. The 38th overall pick in the draft, Colclough will receive a $1.89 million signing bonus and base salaries of $230,000 this season, $305,000 in 2005, $355,000 in 2006 and $460,000 in 2007.
  • CB Deshea Townsend said the attitude of the players was different this spring compared to the past few years when the Steelers were expected to challenge for a Super Bowl berth."You should have something that's motivating you," Townsend said. "You should have a chip on your shoulder every year. But 6-10, you have to go out there and prove yourself and be ready to play."
  • Alonzo Jackson, a college DE drafted in the second round last year, played only in the first two games and then did not dress the rest of the season. He was expected to at least contribute on special teams, but was a failure at it. Now, he has a chance to become their top backup at outside linebacker.

    "It was very disappointing," Jackson said of his rookie season. "It was more frustrating than anything else, having to sit there. Now, looking back on it, I think Coach Cowher did the right thing as far as helping me in the long run learn the defense. Instead of just being thrown out there and adjust to changing positions, he got me in the best position available to me being a contributor this year."
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just go out and work hard and do my job, if people follow my actions, then it's a good person to follow." -- WR Plaxico Burress, in a radio interview during his spring-long absence from workouts with his teammates.

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