After the Ravens officially designated Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister as their franchise player yesterday, the sides reached their first agreement: Let's wait to see how the market unfolds.
With no premier cornerback signing a long-term deal over the past five years, the sticking point in negotiations between the Ravens and McAlister has been defining the market value for a young shutdown cover man.
But the standstill talks with McAlister could be accelerated if new contracts are completed with cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson, both of whom also were given the franchise tag by their teams. All three cornerbacks are in their mid-20s and are generally rated among the top five at their position.
The market could be set as early as this week since Bailey's possible trade from the Washington Redskins to the Denver Broncos (reportedly for running back Clinton Portis) is contingent on his agreeing to a new contract.
"I'm hopeful that they will pay attention to the new market that will be created by Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson," said Mitch Frankel, McAlister's agent. "I believe Chris and those two corners are all of a certain status. I'm hopeful now that they're going to be young corners doing new contracts that will help the Ravens see what Chris' true value is."
That value may include a signing bonus exceeding $15 million.
It's uncertain how much Bailey will receive in Denver, but he recently rejected the Redskins' offer of a nine-year, $55 million contract that included $14.75 million in bonuses.
Similarly, Woodson is believed to be asking the Oakland Raiders for a bonus in the $15 million to $18 million range.
"If we can come to an equitable deal based on what the market shows us to be, then we'll do it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "If we can't, one of the luxuries we have is that we can indeed absorb this in our cap situation."
By naming McAlister as their franchise player for a second straight year, the Ravens are required to give him a one-year contract worth $6.8 million (120 percent increase from last year's tender), which virtually locks him into returning to the team.
He was officially designated a non-exclusive franchise player, meaning he can solicit offers from other teams. The Ravens would have the right to match those offers to retain McAlister or accept two first-round draft choices in exchange for him.
By using the tag, the Ravens can continue talks for a multi-year agreement until March 17. Under league rules, the Ravens would lose the right to use a franchise tag over the length of McAlister's new contract if they strike a deal between March 17 and July 14.
"Our intent is to make sure Chris McAlister stays a Raven," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "The goal is to reach a long-term contract with him and his agent."
The prospects of coming to terms on a new deal have not been promising for almost a year.
The sides have been negotiating for 13 months, and Frankel said the last time progress was made on reaching an agreement was last March.
"Since that time, it's getting more difficult for us to reach an agreement, not easier," Frankel said. "I think that's a function of Chris playing at the level he played this season and truly establishing himself as one of the elite corners in the game. I think it's more difficult than a year ago because we really believe that Chris is among the top two or three corners in the league, if not the best, and should be compensated for it."
Although many players protest the tag by missing minicamps and holding out of training camp, McAlister never caused a stir over it last season. Frankel said he plans to speak tonight with McAlister on how they will handle this year's tag.
"I will expect Chris to conduct himself as a professional," Frankel said. "I think he will. I think that's what the future will hold."