Stalled talks put McAlister in foul mood

Chris McAlister flew cross-country to iron out some issues with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome yesterday.

Their last words were exchanged in the Ravens' parking lot and ended with them driving in opposite directions. Judging by McAlister's comments, it may be awhile before their paths cross again.


Frustrated by being named the franchise player for the second straight year, McAlister questioned his future with the Ravens for the first time and offered no answers as to when he will return to them. After recently saying he intended to report to training camp on time, he delivered no such guarantee when he left the team's practice complex.

"I don't know when I'm coming back to the East Coast," said McAlister, 27, who spends most of his offseason in California. "I'm going out west and staying out there. I'll come back when I have to be here."


If McAlister intends on earning all of the $7.1 million in the Ravens' contract tender, he doesn't have to come back until the first game of the regular season.

Because he has yet to sign that one-year offer (which is paid in weekly installments of $420,000 during the regular season), he isn't under contract and can't be fined for skipping training camp, which begins July 30 at McDaniel College.

League rules allowed long-term contract talks between the Ravens and McAlister to resume Thursday, but negotiations remain deadlocked.

Ravens officials don't want to discuss a multi-year extension until the tender is signed first because they could lose the franchise tag over the length of the new deal if they don't. Meanwhile, McAlister doesn't want to sign that tender because it would force him to report to camp.

Missing camp is a common form of protest by franchise players. Seattle offensive tackle Walter Jones has missed back-to-back preseasons to express his dissatisfaction with the tag.

Ravens officials have long prepared for McAlister being absent at the start of camp yet hold out hope he will return in enough time to play in the preseason.

"As soon as the tender or the contract is worked out, I'll be here," said McAlister, who reported on time last year as the franchise player.

When McAlister returns, the next question becomes: How long will he stay?


McAlister, who said he envisioned retiring as a Raven six months ago, seems ready to part ways with the team that drafted him 10th overall in 1999.

He said there is no chance of him returning to the Ravens if they allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in March. His agent, Mitch Frankel, said he was not optimistic about reaching a long-term deal this year because the sides were so far apart in their previous discussions.

The Ravens could opt to franchise him for a third straight season, which would require a one-year, $8.5 million tender.

"If I don't get signed to a long-term deal, I don't want to be here," McAlister said. "I'm tired of living year to year. That's the bottom line.

"If they ever by any wicked twist of fate would let me go free, I'm outta here. I'm gone."

McAlister suggested a month ago that his off-the-field problems may be the biggest obstacle in the Ravens committing a sizable contract to him. He was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana in 2000 and with driving under the influence last summer. Charges were dropped in both cases.


But after watching the Ravens' trouble-filled offseason, McAlister said character issues could no longer be an excuse for the Ravens. Although he did not call out any player by name, three Ravens - Jamal Lewis (federal drug charges), Terrell Suggs (felony assault) and Corey Fuller (felony gambling and firearm charges) - all face pending trials.

When asked if he was worried about how his teammates would react to his comments, he said, "That's up to them. I don't know and I don't care. I'm not worried about it because I didn't point fingers at anybody. I just said our team in itself has problems. That's just the facts."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said McAlister's conduct has never been an issue in negotiations.

As far as his meeting with Newsome, McAlister described the conversation as "great" but admitted nothing had been resolved "other than the fact that we know where each other stands."

At this point, the Ravens and McAlister stand far apart.

"We can't get into any negotiations about a long-term deal until the tender is signed," Newsome said.