McAlister reports, Sanders next to arrive

OWINGS MILLS – Upon the arrival of franchise player Chris McAlister and the impending addition of Deion Sanders as a nickel back, the Baltimore Ravens' secondary has been upgraded from a question mark to an exclamation point.<br><br> McAlister signed his one-year, $7.1 million tender and reported Monday after skipping training camp to protest being assigned the franchise tag for the second year in a row.

The Pro Bowl cornerback remains embroiled in a contract dispute as he seeks to become one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. Negotiations are likely to resume this week with neither side optimistic about striking a deal.

"If you could take the business side and throw it in the trash, I'm still pretty sure that guys would come out and play football on Sunday for the love of it," said McAlister, who covets Champ Bailey's $63 million contract that includes an $18 million signing bonus. "I love to compete. When I get on the football field, it doesn't matter what they're going to pay me ($420,000 per week during the season).

"No, I'm not upset. It is what it is. The facts are that I'm the franchise player again and I'm being compensated for it."
Despite his unsettled long-term future in Baltimore, McAlister joins Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, cornerback Gary Baxter and safety Will Demps. Plus, Sanders is expected to report between now and the final preseason game Thursday against the New York Giants.

Between those five defensive backs, the Ravens' secondary would feature a total of nine Pro Bowl selections and 81 interceptions.

"It could be the best in the game right now," McAlister said. "Even coming out of retirement, he's a lot more valuable and experienced than a lot of corners in the league.

"I'm pretty sure he wouldn't come back unless he felt he could go out there and play the game the way he's used to. He's one of the greatest of his era and one of the best to ever play the game."

Sanders, 37, has been retired since 2001, but the seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback's imminent return has created a buzz at the Ravens' training complex.

Noted speed coach Tom Shaw told Sporting News Radio that Sanders has covered 40 yards in 4.38 seconds during his workouts at his Texas estate.

"Where are they going to throw the ball?" asked Baxter. "You do the math. We're going to play extremely fast."

General manager Ozzie Newsome and Sanders' agent, Eugene Parker, were reportedly scheduled to begin contract talks Monday.

"We're very optimistic that Deion will be here," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Until Deion shows up in body and signs a contract, I've got to qualify it. We're ready for either way, but the signs are awfully optimistic right now."

Defensive back Corey Fuller reversed his stance on whether Sanders, his good friend, is returning to football.

"Deion will be here," Fuller said. "It's very obvious that he's coming now. If Deion can play at half the level he used to play, and I know he's going to play a whole lot better than people think, it's just going to make the team better."

Meanwhile, the operative plan is for McAlister to play a series or two against New York.

"From the X's and O's standpoint, he'll pick it up quickly," Billick said. "He'll probably make an error in the Cleveland game because of that lost time. Hopefully it doesn't cost us too much."

McAlister said his typical daily workout included two hours of running in Santa Monica with a 20-pound vest followed by lunch, a few hours of weight lifting, nine holes of golf.

"I feel fresh right now, mentally and physically," said McAlister, who has lost a few pounds and appeared much leaner. "I think I need the two weeks before Cleveland. I don't want to walk out there, and the first person I hit is someone in a Cleveland Browns jersey."

Will McAlister relinquish his No. 21 jersey, the same number Sanders made popular?

McAlister said cash is the primary inducement he would accept to switch.

The No. 23 jersey made famous by Michael Jordan, whom Sanders consulted about his comeback, is available.
"If he wants it, we'll see what happens," McAlister said, "but I really think I'll be wearing 21 this year."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.



 


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