Ravens cut ties with McAlister

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens cut ties with former Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister on Monday, an unsurprising transaction given that it saves the team $8 million against the salary cap and jettisons an older player who never seemed to mesh with the new coaching staff.

Although the move wasn't unexpected by teammates and team officials who only saw the three-time Pro Bowl selection a few times after he had knee surgery in South Florida and rehabilitated away from team headquarters, McAlister said he was caught off-guard by the move. He even called it a "blind shot."

"It's kind of strange how it all happens, it's a tough pill to swallow at the end of the day," McAlister said in a radio interview with 105.7 FM. "I'm still dealing with the shock of the whole thing. I can't imagine this happened. I never thought it would happen. I'll bounce back. I still love football. I still want to play football."

According to McAlister, he met Monday with coach John Harbaugh for 15 minutes and discussed returning next season and participating in the team's offseason training program. Then, he was given the news that the team was terminating his contract during a subsequent meeting with general manager Ozzie Newsome.

"I went in to take my exit physical and I sat down and talked to coach Harbaugh and we talked about how I felt about coming back and the offseason conditioning program," said McAlister, who didn't return telephone calls. "I left out of his office and he said we would talk in a couple of days. "Two minutes later, I walked into the general manager's office and got cut. The whole way it went down is probably the most disappointing thing to me."

The reasons behind McAlister's departure aren't hard to figure out.

He'll turn 32 before next season and missed the final 10 games after being placed on injured reserve. He's coming off knee surgery, but said he'll be able to perform "100 percent football activity" by May or June.

Plus, McAlister had a history of off-field problems and was benched prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins this past season. In his final start with the Ravens, he was burnt repeatedly by wide receiver Marvin Harrison in a 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

When asked about behind-the-scenes issues involving him and the team, McAlister sounded unconvinced that there was anything to clear up.

"I did exactly what was asked of me," he said. "I went and had my surgery. I wasn't on the roster. I was given the opportunity to rehab where I had surgery or I could come back. As long as I was getting the rehab and doing what I have been doing down in Florida, I thought I had done everything I was supposed to do.

"As far as mending fences, some fences I can't comment on. .. As far as mending fences, they can't be mended at this point. There's nothing I can do to change the situation. I'll play for another team somewhere else."

Cutting McAlister frees up salary-cap space for the Ravens to possibly use the franchise tag for the second year in a row on Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, which would cost $10.2 million. The deadline to use the tag is Thursday afternoon.

Also, the Ravens are trying to retain unrestricted free agent linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott and center Jason Brown. They plan to negotiate with those players' respective agents at the NFL scouting combine Feb. 18 to Feb. 24.

"I may have been let go because of cap reasons," McAlister said. "It makes sense to me that those undisclosed reasons why I'm no longer a Raven is because they have to pay a Bart Scott, a Terrell Suggs, a Ray Lewis. Ray is the Ravens. I'd have a very hard time seeing them let him go. Terrell Suggs is another player I can't see them letting go."

When McAlister was on top of his game, there were few cornerbacks as physically dominant as the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder. A first-round draft pick by the Ravens in 1999 out of Arizona, McAlister made the Pro Bowl in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

With McAlister gone, Lewis and kicker Matt Stover are the only players remaining from their Super Bowl championship team.

"First, we want to thank Chris for all he did for the Ravens in the past 10 years," Newsome said in a statement. "He was a major contributor to many big wins, including the Super Bowl. To play the type of defense we have used here, you have to have corners who can cover one-on-one. He was one of the best at that for us. He was physical, and he could run with the best."

However, McAlister was limited by injuries and missed 18 games over the past two seasons. He limped noticeably when he reported to training camp last summer, but intercepted three passes in six games this past season.

"All of us who had the opportunity to coach Chris for the first time this season have an appreciation for all the good things he did for this team through the years," Harbaugh said. "He'll be remembered by us and the fans as one of the best to ever play for the Ravens. He's a tough guy and loves football. He'll play again, and he'll play well."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are left with Samari Rolle, who has battled numerous injuries and epilepsy over the past two seasons, Fabian Washington and Frank Walker at cornerback.

McAlister leaves the team with 26 career interceptions, the third-most in franchise history behind safety Ed Reed and Lewis. He scored seven career touchdowns and once returned a missed field goal 107 yards for what was then the NFL's longest play ever.

McAlister said he doesn't have any regrets about his decade in Baltimore.

"No, there's nothing I would change," McAlister said. "I would do everything the same way. I'm not an honor roll student. As individuals, we all have our own ways.

"I don't think they handled me differently than any other players. There's no regret from that standpoint. It's hard for me to even talk about it right now. I'm still in shock."

NOTE: McAlister praised new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Rex Ryan's replacement, and said he had been looking forward to playing for him.

"He's an insider, he knows the players, he knows football most importantly," McAlister said. "I was all aboard with the idea. Now, I'm going to play somewhere else."

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