Ravens tell McAlister “no” – And it was the right call on their part

December 22, 2009 | Drew Forrester

The Ravens have decided to tell Chris McAlister “thanks, but no thanks”…a polite way of saying, “No, we don’t think you can help us this weekend as we fight for our playoff lives in Pittsburgh.”

That’s quite a statement.

As first reported by WNST.net yesterday (another “win” for the station that no one listens to…and EVERYONE in town knows we won on this one…right boys? and girls?) the Ravens threw McAlister’s name in the mix when Lardarius Webb went down with his ACL injury on Sunday night.  And as quickly as his name was thrown into the mix yesterday, it was almost immediately dismissed by the powers-that-be at 1 Winning Drive.

If you think McAlister’s name was dismissed by John Harbaugh, you’re wrong.  It never even got that far.

And the decision to add Corey Ivy today shows that the Ravens put more stock in fitness, heart and character than they do the resume of a player – McAlister – who used to be really good before he became disinterested in continuing to play at a high level.

Let it be known, for purposes of full disclosure, that I was always a major-fan of Chris McAlister when #21 was a member of the Ravens.  He is, to me, anyway, a slam dunk Ring of Honor player.  He’s one of the five best defensive players in the history of the franchise, so far.

But the shiny, glowing love affair with McAlister ends there.

Signing McAlister would have been wrong on a variety of levels.

And the Ravens – today – absolutely did the right thing by passing on him.

First, and most importantly, is the question about CMac’s heart, dedication and fitness.

He’s played in exactly TWO games in the NFL since November, 2008.  Both of those came last month, with the New Orleans Saints.  They thought so highly of him, they gave him the boot after two games as a “replacement” player after a starter suffered an injury.  McAlister – at least to the Saints – had become Corey Ivy:  A player summoned for a brief stint because another player is out of the lineup.  And when they saw enough of McAlister to make an assessment, they sent him packing and replaced him with a player from their practice squad.

Chris McAlister can’t do it anymore in the NFL.

“That’s not a low blow…”

Remember this: When McAlister was healthy and playing regularly for the Ravens, one of the knocks against him was…you guessed it…his fitness level.  There were rumors about his personal life and the Ravens were highly agitated about a substantial weight gain in 2007 when he missed time in mid-season due to a knee injury.  Privately, way back then, the Ravens were worried that McAlister was in the waning stages of his career.  He was no longer able to physically practice enough to stay fit…and was basically getting by in games by virtue of his smarts and knowledge of the league.  Once known as one of the best in the NFL at “press coverage” (taking a WR on from the line of scrimmage instead of playing 5-10 yards off), McAlister started changing his playing style when his health and fitness both declined.  And it didn’t change for the better.

When fit and 100% healthy, McAlister was a very good player, even late in his career.

When not fit and bothered by a knee injury, he was, at best, nothing more than a veteran who was hanging on just to hang on.

And once his career started to slip, his off-the-field issues became even more noticeable and impactful.

There was a not-so-secret incident prior to the team’s departure for Indianapolis last season (Oct. 12) that some felt was related to alcohol and a subsequent missed team meeting in Indy left both John Harbaugh and Rex Ryan furious.  The following week in Miami, McAlister – now suddenly “bothered” by a knee injury – was involved in a scene in the lobby of the team’s hotel in which he prepared to board the team bus in shorts, a t-shirt and flanked by several attractive young women.  All of that took place in front of a group of the team’s high-dollar, 5-star corporate sponsors.  Those two back-to-back slip-ups – in Indy and Miami – were the respective finishing blows for the once highly-capable McAlister.

The final two seasons of McAlister’s run in Baltimore were littered with injuries, weight gain and an overall dip in performance.  He was unable to practice regularly and, at $9-$10 million per-season, was cashing in every other Friday but not paying the price every Sunday.

And when John Harbaugh arrived on the scene and started a ferocious training camp in August, McAlister immediately bristled at the physical nature of the early days in Westminster.

He had not only lost his fitness, he had lost his desire to conform.

And he was getting $9 million dollars.

So with all of that in mind, what would make anyone think that McAlister, in week #15 of the 2009 season, could jump right in on Sunday and play against the Steelers with virtually no ramp-up time for fitness and/or game conditioning?

You’re telling me that you believe, in your heart of hearts, that Chris McAlister – without game fitness – can compete on Sunday against some of the best offensive football players IN THE WORLD?  And to those of you who point out he did that for two games with the Saints last month, I’ll remind you they thought so highly of him after his “trial” with the team that they jettisoned him.

And if you’re saying “even if he’s not fit, he’s still better than Frank Walker or Chris Carr” (I have to apologize in advance for offending you, because I’m most certainly about to) then you have no idea what you’re talking about.  I’m sorry.

Any player in the league who has trained since August and has stayed fit, active and is familiar with the game plan is a better gamble than a guy who’s in the December of his career and has played exactly 2 games in 12 months.  And yes, that includes Frank Walker.

It’s no secret the Ravens had issues with McAlister.  Stories about his off-field activities were well known.  I know the Ravens had privately tried to get him to seek professional help but it didn’t happen.

In the end, McAlister couldn’t beat his demons.  Whether he tried hard enough is good for healthy debate, but there’s no doubt that Chris McAlister’s career was derailed by his personal life and his inability to stay healthy as he entered his early 30’s.

And those problems all took place when McAlister was making $9 million a year.

If the Ravens couldn’t trust him to give his very best effort when he was in the middle of a $50 million contract, how on earth can they rely on him this Sunday when he’s making $50,000 to play at Heinz Field?

Answer:  They can’t.

The Ravens didn’t do “this” to Chris McAlister.

McAlister did it to himself.

He didn’t rob them blind in 2007 and 2008, but he might as well have at least been cited for a misdemeanor shoplifting charge. He gave half an effort – at best – in those two seasons…and still collected his full paycheck.  Let’s call that “petty theft”.  Not a felony…but devious nonetheless.

And that’s why John Harbaugh parted company with him last November.

One thing about Harbaugh:  If you don’t give the maximum effort, you’re not around for long.  There’s another guy who champions that philosophy as well in the NFL.  He coaches in New England.

So remember this:  When the Ravens were paying McAlister $9 million a year, they couldn’t get the most out of him.

How are they going to go to Pittsburgh on Sunday and bank on him to give them everything he has now…when he’s not REALLY on the team anymore?

Answer:  They won’t.

Corey Ivy isn’t a great football player.  His career train has made more stops than Amtrak’s Acela Express to New York City.

But Corey Ivy has heart.  And in his heart, he’s a member of the Ravens.  In Chris McAlister’s heart, he’s a football player. There’s a difference.

And when John Harbaugh looks Ivy in the eye at 12:15 pm on Sunday and says, “Corey, if you’re called upon today, I need you to give me everything you have”, he knows he’s going to get it all.

There’s a decent chance that Ivy might only wind up playing special teams on Sunday.  But if Chris Carr turns an ankle on the game’s 3rd play, the Ravens need someone who can go 40-50 snaps and give them his maximum effort.  Corey Ivy fits that bill.

McAlister proved time and time again that you never know what you’re going to get out of him.

With Ivy, you’re getting his maximum effort.

And the same goes for Frank Walker and Chris Carr.

Say what you will about both of them — but they’re each professionals and they’ll each give it their all on Sunday.  And Walker, remember, was actually a major contributor to the team’s secondary last season when they reached the AFC title game.  He’s not a great player either.  But Frank Walker is fit, and healthy, and he isn’t pre-disposed to any anti-Ravens thoughts as Chris McAlister might be.

Chris Carr is in the same boat.  He’d give his left nut to start on Sunday against the Steelers.

McAlister doesn’t have enough pride to do it anymore.  He won’t pay the price to stay in shape, he won’t pay the price to be a professional and he most certainly has health concerns that would make him a liability over 16 weeks, let alone over 5 days.

I’m guessing John Harbaugh will approach Chris Carr with this on Sunday:  “Son, you want to prove you’re a starting defensive back in the league? Today is ‘prove it day’ in Pittsburgh.  This chance doesn’t come around often, Chris.  It’s your day to shine.”

He can go to Frank Walker with a somewhat different slant on things:  “Frank, we both know you’ve been under some harsh criticism this year. You want to atone for that game in Minnesota?  Here’s your chance, bro.  Go out there and make some plays. Show people how good Frank Walker can be.”

In the Ravens mind, they have a better chance of winning with Chris Carr and Frank Walker trying to prove they’re good than they do with Chris McAlister trying to prove John Harbaugh was wrong.

And that all comes back to one theme:

When the Ravens were paying Chris McAlister $9 million a year, they couldn’t get the maximum effort out of him.

It stung back then and it still stings today.

McAlister was NEVER the right call for the game in Pittsburgh.

The Ravens don’t trust him anymore.

And they’re moving on.

Privately, Ravens officials say they put tremendous stock in McAlister’s performance this year in New Orleans.  And it wasn’t good.  A source told me the 2nd game was the tell-tale sign.  “He just doesn’t have it anymore.  It’s obvious,” says the source.

Another member of the organization simply noted:  “It was really all about finding the guy who is fit and has the skills to go up against the Steelers.”

That, of course, turned out NOT to be Chris McAlister.

Somehwere, today, I’m betting Chris McAlister doesn’t even care that the Ravens passed on him during this time of need.

And that, for sure, is part of his problem.