McAlister has Ravens over a barrel

OWINGS MILLS – Surrounded by a phalanx of tape recorders and cameras, football player Chris McAlister did his best impersonation of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger's rendition of a killer cyborg in "The Terminator." Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room, McAlister struck the pose of a man confident of his financial future when asked about his impending contract negotiation. The cornerback didn't even have to consult Alan Greenspan, or agent Mitch Frankel.

"I'll be back," the unrestricted free agent said repeatedly. "I ain't leaving. That's the bottom line. I don't want to go anywhere else. I'm happy in Baltimore."

McAlister has always felt assured of his status with the Ravens, security that comes with being selected 10th overall in the 1999 NFL Draft and having rare athleticism and size.

McAlister, 25, didn't always act accordingly considering this was a contract year, most notably by complaining last August about his existing deal when the Ravens were securing linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware to new contracts.

 McAlister knew that eventually the Ravens would get around to taking care of him, and that time is nearly here. Expect a press conference in the next few months to announce either a long-term contract extension for McAlister that may include a market-value signing bonus in the neighborhood of $10 million.

The Ravens could also designate McAlister with the franchise tag, but would have to pay him the average of the five highest players at his position. Any other team would have to surrender two No. 1 draft picks to Baltimore as compensation if they signed him to an offer sheet.

Yes, McAlister angered fans and displeased Ravens coach Brian Billick with his on-field piques of poor judgment. Yes, he wasn't exactly the picture of accountability or poise after tearing off and tossing the helmet of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Donte Stallworth, or following his ill-advised personal foul that helped set up the Cleveland Browns' game-winning touchdown two weeks ago.

So, why reward him with so many greenbacks? Here's why: Because McAlister is 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, has fierce tackling ability when he feels like it and polished cover skills.

Is he consistent? No, not really.

Would the Ravens be comfortable leaving cornerback solely in the hands of Gary Baxter and former Arizona Cardinals first-round bust Tom Knight? Absolutely not.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said the team has already begun preliminary discussions to bring back McAlister and offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo.

Whether or not McAlister is actually telling the truth, or just saying what he believes people want to hear, he finally struck a contrite chord for a few of his transgressions.

 "I learned the game can't become a personal battle," McAlister said. "You can't become too emotional."

If McAlister can learn that crucial lesson and be more productive than his 2002 total of one interception, 67 tackles and 24 pass deflections, the Ravens' money will be well-spent. If not, they still have their hands tied.

McAlister is the top cornerback on the open market, and there aren't many attractive alternatives. Perhaps the Ravens could receive a discount based on their patience over the years for his minor off-field problems.

"I'm pretty sure things will work themselves out," McAlister said. "It's not something I'm really concerned about. If I stick around, I can get another ring."

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