It's official: Ravens franchise McAlister

OWINGS MILLS - In football and business parlance, the Baltimore Ravens have sound coverage on cornerback Chris McAlister. By designating McAlister with the franchise tag before Thursday afternoon's deadline, the Ravens kept him from entering unrestricted free agency with what amounts to a one-year tender offer worth $5.962 million.

That's the average of the top five players at his position. Plus, the Ravens are assured of the compensation of two first-round picks if McAlister was to sign an offer sheet with another club and Baltimore decided not to match that contract.

Essentially, the Ravens have bought themselves more time to negotiate a long-term contract extension with Mitch Frankel, McAlister's representative.

"We want Chris to be a Raven for a long time," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement from Indianapolis, where he's attending the league's annual scouting combine. "By putting the franchise tag on him, we are clearly stating our intentions. We will continue to negotiate with his agent to get a deal done."

 Under the league's designation period that lasts until March 15, there's a window for teams to negotiate without losing the franchise tag so they are allowed to use it again beginning next season.

This adjustment in the rules allows teams to work out out a contract that would lessen the immediate salary-cap impact and secure the player's services for several years.

The scenario of McAlister signing elsewhere is unlikely to transpire for several reasons, the chief one being McAlister and the Ravens' shared desire to continue their relationship.

McAlister is valued heavily for his ideal size and speed at 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, but drew criticism for his propensity toward personal fouls last season. The 10th overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft recorded 67 tackles and 24 pass deflections with one interception.

"I'll be back," McAlister, 25, said at season's end. "I ain't leaving. That's the bottom line. I don't want to go anywhere else. It's not something I'm really concerned about. I'm happy in Baltimore."

In the event that McAlister signs a contract with the Ravens between March 15 and July 15, the Ravens would surrender their right to franchise a player for the length of his new deal. If McAlister agreed to terms after July 15, the Ravens would retain the franchise designation for the following season.

Previously, the Ravens had only used the franchise tag on offensive lineman Wally Williams, who left the team for the New Orleans Saints the following season.

Now, the Ravens can concentrate on discussions with their top two unrestricted free agents, quarterback Jeff Blake and offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo.

Blake's agent, Ralph Cindrich, said he expects a multi-year, incentive-laden contract offer from Baltimore.

Mulitalo's agent, Ed Cunningham, said he anticipates striking a market-value deal for his client before Feb. 28, when the open signing period for free agency begins

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