Ravens, McAlister at an impasse

<b>Free Story!! </b>OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens' contract discussions with Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister are at a standstill.<br><br> The stalled negotiations are centered around a significant monetary disagreement and the franchise player declining to sign a one-year tender that would require him to report to training camp. The possibility of McAlister remaining in California when the Ravens report for training camp next Thursday appears to have increased.<br><br>

"We're not talking," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said Thursday afternoon before leaving the Ravens' training complex. "We're not negotiating until he signs the tender."

As the Ravens' franchise player for the second consecutive year, McAlister, 27, is slated to earn $7.1 million under that tender. That contract includes no signing bonus, requires him to report to training camp and would be paid in $420,000 installments throughout the regular season.

The Ravens don't want to resume discussions for a long-term extension until McAlister signs his tender.

Under his current unsigned status, McAlister doesn't meet the technical requirements of being termed a holdout. He isn't under contract, although the Ravens retain exclusive negotiating rights.

Several franchise players regularly skip training camp as a demonstration of their unhappiness with the restrictive tag, including Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones not reporting the last two years.

The team is hoping McAlister won't miss so much of the preseason that he could increase his risk of an injury when he returns because of a lack of practice time. The Ravens also want to avoid a breakdown in communications, so they know whether to expect him or not.

Under the unlikely scenario of McAlister refusing to report before the season begins, the Ravens wouldn't be liable to pay him at all. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, but the Ravens can retain his services either by signing him to a new contract or franchising him again and paying him $8.5 million, a 20-percent increase.

McAlister earned $5.962 million last season, intercepted three passes and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.

The Ravens drafted him 10th overall in 1999 out of the University of Arizona.

Agent Mitch Frankel, who didn't return a telephone call seeking comment, has said that the two sides are far apart in negotiations.

McAlister is seeking a contract similar to four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, who received a $63 million deal from the Denver Broncos that included an $18 million signing bonus.

"We believe Chris McAlister is the best cornerback in the National Football League," Ravens coach Brian Billick said in June. "We concede that, we told Chris that. The question becomes, what do you pay the best cornerback in the NFL"

Billick said the team wouldn't use McAlister's prior brushes with the law (misdemeanor possession of marijuana, driving under the influence) against him in negotiations. Prosecutors dropped charges against McAlister in both cases.

McAlister was benched prior to the San Diego Chargers game for violating curfew and missing a team meeting. He went on to shut down some of the league's top receivers, including Torry Holt, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson.

"Chris McAlister has never been convicted of anything," Billick said. "There is nothing in the negotiations, in any way, shape or form that is reflective of our concern that way.

"There is not going to be anything in the contract that addresses that in any manner, because that would be inappropriate. That is not an issue for us."

NOTE: The Ravens signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Daniel Wilcox over the summer in a depth-building move. Tight end Trent Smith, who missed his entire rookie season with a broken leg and still has a metal rod in his leg, is unlikely to be ready for the start of training camp.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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