A month away from the start of free agency, Ravens officials said cornerback Chris McAlister likely will not hit the open market.
The Ravens are "heavy" in negotiations on a long-term contract with the Pro Bowl defender, but they seem ready to name him their franchise player again if no deal can be reached by Feb. 24, the NFL's deadline for assigning the tag.
Since McAlister was the team's franchise player last year, he would receive a one-year deal worth $7.2 million (a 120 percent raise from last year's contract).
The tag virtually locks him into returning since no team is expected to match the offer and give the Ravens two first-round draft picks as compensation. It also doesn't stop the Ravens from reaching a long-term deal at a later date.
When asked if the Ravens are willing to keep McAlister as their franchise player if no long-term agreement can be made, coach Brian Billick said, "We're prepared to do either. As they would, we'd prefer to get a [long-term] deal done. That's what we are trying to get done."
McAlister's agent, Mitch Frankel, did not return phone calls yesterday.
A day after the Ravens' 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs, McAlister seemed confident he would remain with the Ravens. It is believed that McAlister is seeking a signing bonus on a long-term deal between $16 million and $19 million.
McAlister enjoyed a breakthrough season last year after bottoming out in Week 3, when he missed curfew and got benched. Over the final three months of the regular season, he went on to silence such top-notch receivers as Denver's Rod Smith, Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith, St. Louis' Torry Holt, Miami's Chris Chambers and San Francisco's Terrell Owens.
He earned his first invitation to the Pro Bowl, where he is currently practicing.
"I've been a Raven since they drafted me, and I'm going to retire a Raven," McAlister, the 10th overall pick of the 1999 draft, said last month.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are looking to sign running back Jamal Lewis to a new contract. If a deal is reached, it probably would occur around training camp in August.
The NFL's Offensive Player of the Year has two years left on his current contract and is scheduled to earn $2.4 million next season, which is not among the top 10 highest-paid running backs in the league. Lewis ran for 2,066 yards last season, the second-highest total in NFL history.
"We see Jamal just as we saw Jonathan [Ogden], Peter [Boulware] and Ray Lewis," said general manager Ozzie Newsome, alluding to three Pro Bowl players the Ravens signed to new contracts over the years. "If there is an opportunity to extend his contract, we will."
NOTES: The Ravens offered their director of player development position to O.J. Brigance yesterday. Brigance was a key special teams player on the Ravens' Super Bowl team. The job became open when Earnest Byner left to join the Washington Redskins as a running backs coach. ...
Ravens officials said linebacker Ray Lewis is scheduled to have his shoulder examined when he returns from the Pro Bowl. The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year wore a harness on his right shoulder for the final month of the season. ...
The team is currently talking with fullback Alan Ricard on a long-term extension. The Pro Bowl alternate is a restricted free agent this season. ...
Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh considers the addition of senior consultant Jim Fassel as a positive. Fassel was Cavanaugh's quarterbacks coach with the New York Giants in 1991. "Under the circumstances, this will probably work out better than most people think it will," Cavanaugh said. "Anytime you get an outsider's view of your system, someone who is familiar with the NFL and offense, I think it's worth doing. It's rare that you can get someone to come in like this as a consultant and have a good relationship with the coach and the coordinator." ...
Newsome recently had hip replacement surgery. Remarkably, it's the first surgery of any kind for Newsome, who played tight end for the Cleveland Browns for 13 seasons. "Don't worry, I'll be able to run at the combine," he said jokingly.