With all of the budgetary considerations that the Ravens have with free agency approaching, it would seem that Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the front office will have their work cut out for them, trying to maintain the competitiveness of this team while also looking to make the subtle improvements necessary to put them over the top for next season. It would seem that in order to properly formulate the rest of his plan, Ozzie will have to answer the question that has been eating at most of us for months now. What’s up with Chris McAlister?
I have been a huge supporter of McAlister since his arrival in Baltimore. I’ve often said, that in the early years of the Ravens, Ray Lewis was a lot of fun to watch, and worth the price of admission alone. But it wasn’t until the arrival of Chris McAlister, that the Ravens became the great defense that has become their identity for nearly a decade.
Since then it would seem, that the Ravens have played as well or as poorly as McAlister has played himself. The defense dealt successfully with injuries to, and departures of nearly every defensive player around him, yet seemed to flounder only when McAlister fell victim to injury or disinterest. Even when Ray Lewis was out for extended periods of time in 2002 & 2005, the Ravens defense held their own. But with McAlister out, they’ve always looked vulnerable.
I always thought that McAlister was the key to the Ravens success, and maybe the team’s most underrated player. I also believe that shutdown corners are either the most, or second most valuable commodities in all of football, and McAlister is just that, when he wants to be.
This year though, things were different. The word around town is that he never really meshed with John Harbaugh from the jump. There was also an injury, the magnitude of which will probably always be in question. Some could see McAlister’s season, as a player trying to do everything that he could in order to get a diagnosis that would allow him to stay on the field. Others will see him as a malcontent that Harbaugh sent home, rather than having to deal with week after week, and the injury as just a convenient excuse.
In either case, despite the fact that McAlister was arguably the most effective defensive back on the team for the few games that he was on the field, outside of Indianapolis of course. This season, they also played inexplicably well once he was shelved. And whether or not it was a direct result of McAlister’s removal, it would seem that team chemistry was also at an all time high in the closing weeks of 2008.
The Ravens could have certainly used another defensive back in the waning minutes of the Pittsburgh game, when seemingly every player with a number in the 20’s was lined up at the trainer’s table. But they didn’t necessarily need a back of McAlister’s caliber though, and the absence of McAlister down the stretch is probably no more likely a cause for the Ravens departure from the playoffs than Hurricane Ike.
Whether McAlister’s presence in the locker room outweighs the benefits that he brings to the defense is a matter for the front office and coaching staff to debate. But there’s another factor that will have to be addressed as well. It’d be tough to believe that attitude alone would negate the value that he brings to the field. But it may be equally tough to believe that what he brings to you on the field at this point in his career, which is now tempered by the fact that he’s played just 14 games over the last two seasons, is worth what he could potentially do to the locker room and the nearly $11 million that he would bring against your cap as well.
Considering that Mac is near the end of his pro rated bonus money, the cap hit for cutting him would only be around $3 million, freeing up about $8 million in additional money to bring back whomever else they deem important enough. With a few other cap moves, and maybe some prudent restructures, they might even find enough money to sign a mid level wide receiver like Malcolm Floyd or Nate Washington in free agency.
I suppose the Ravens could look to shop McAlister it would seem unlikely though that they could find a suitor willing to take on his $8 million base salary this season and provide some value in return. Restructuring him would seem out of the question as well if relations between he and the coaching staff are as frosty as is being speculated. I’d guess we’ve seen the last of McAlister as a Raven.
As with Jamal Lewis and Adalius Thomas before him, it will be tough to watch him go. It will be even tougher to find a player of his caliber again anytime soon to replace him. But based on what we saw this season, a player of his caliber may not be what the team needs most right now anyway. And it would seem that “his” money might be better used to retain other key players and maybe pick up a few pieces. You can do a lot with $8 million in the NFL.