McAlister, 31, said he sat down with coach John Harbaugh for 15 minutes yesterday, talking about coming back to the team and the offseason conditioning program. Then, McAlister said, he walked across the hall to meet with general manager Ozzie Newsome, who told him that he was getting released.
"This is a blind shot to me," McAlister told local radio station 105.7 FM, which airs a show featuring the cornerback. "The whole way it went down is probably the most disappointing thing to me. As far as mending fences, they can't be mended at this point."
A team spokesman confirmed that McAlister spoke with Harbaugh and Newsome separately, but the Ravens declined to comment beyond their statements.
McAlister, a first-round draft pick by the Ravens in 1999, made the Pro Bowl three times (2003, 2004 and 2006) and was one of three remaining players from the Ravens' 2000 championship team (linebacker Ray Lewis and kicker Matt Stover are the others).
"All of us who had the opportunity to coach Chris for the first time this season have an appreciation for all the good things he did for this team through the years," Harbaugh said in a statement. "He'll be remembered by us and the fans as one of the best to ever play for the Ravens. He's a tough guy and loves football. He'll play again, and he'll play well."
McAlister's release was long anticipated because of money and chemistry.
By cutting the 10-year veteran, the Ravens free up $8 million in salary cap space, which could help the team sign five other starters (linebackers Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott, center Jason Brown and safety Jim Leonhard) who are pending free agents. Also, McAlister struggled with a knee injury for the second straight season and never seemed to earn the trust of the new coaching staff.
He got burned for two touchdowns at Indianapolis in Week 6 and got benched the next game. Although there were rumors of discipline problems, Harbaugh said the decision to pull McAlister from the starting lineup was based on performance.
A week after being benched, McAlister was inactive for three weeks before being placed on injured reserve. Unlike other players on injured reserve, McAlister never rejoined the team, even during the playoff run.
"I'm still dealing with the shock of the whole thing," said McAlister, who indicated that he has been medically cleared to practice in May. "I can't imagine this happened. I never thought it would happen."
McAlister was the prototypical cornerback when the Ravens drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 1999.
With the size to match up with taller receivers and the speed to run with smaller ones, McAlister made 26 interceptions, which ranks third on the Ravens' all-time list. He also scored seven career touchdowns - five on interception returns, one on a fumble recovery return and one on a return of a missed field-goal attempt, which set a then-NFL record for longest play (107 yards).
But a knee injury limited his effectiveness the past two seasons. He missed a total of 18 games in 2007 and 2008.
McAlister became expendable when Fabian Washington replaced him in the starting lineup and the Ravens still finished second in pass defense. The Ravens are expected to start Washington and Samari Rolle at cornerback next season.
The team will bring back Frank Walker for depth and could add a cornerback either through free agency or the draft.
"First, we want to thank Chris for all he did for the Ravens in the past 10 years," Newsome said. "He was a major contributor to many big wins, including the Super Bowl. To play the type of defense we have used here, you have to have corners who can cover one-on-one. He was one of the best at that for us. He was physical, and he could run with the best."
Off the field, the Ravens had some problems with McAlister.
He was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana in 2000 and with driving under the influence in 2003. Charges were dropped in both cases.
Later in 2003, McAlister broke curfew and missed the team meeting the next day during the Ravens' extended stay in San Diego. He was sent home and fined.
McAlister questioned the Ravens' chemistry at the end of 2004, describing the locker room as "a little shifted."
But McAlister, who acknowledged that he wasn't an "honor-roll student," said he leaves with fond memories of the town where he spent a decade of his career.
"Regardless of where I go - who knows where it's going to be - Baltimore is a city that is always going to be my second home," said McAlister, who was scheduled to make $8 million in the final two years of his contract. "Ten years here, I had my ups and downs. But there's no greater football town, no better football city than here in Baltimore."
got it covered?
A look at the Ravens' cornerback situation:
Samari Rolle: He showed toughness in fighting back from injuries.
Fabian Washington: Trading for him was one of the best moves of last offseason.
Frank Walker: A loose cannon who improved throughout the season.
Evan Oglesby: He showed flashes last season in a reserve role.
Derrick Martin: His solid play in the preseason revealed some upside.
Anwar Phillips: A practice squad player from last season.
Chris McAlister: He's too big a risk at $8 million a season.
WHO'S UP IN THE AIR
WHO'S IN THE DRAFT
by the numbers
Salary cap savings by the Ravens
32 McAlister's age come June
26 Career interceptions
10 Seasons with the Ravens
7 Touchdowns (5 by interception return, 1 by missed field-goal attempt return, 1 by fumble-recovery return)
3 Pro Bowls
1Super Bowl championship