For the Baltimore Ravens, the first reinforcement for the secondary arrived Monday afternoon, and the second figures to be in camp by the middle of the week.
As anticipated, sixth-year cornerback Chris McAlister, designated as a "franchise" free agent, reported to the team Monday and signed the one-year qualifying offer of $7.1 million the Ravens made him earlier in the spring. It marked the second straight year that McAlister signed the qualifying offer, and he hopes, now that he is in camp, that Ravens officials will resume negotiations on a long-term contract.
Later this week, seven-time Pro Bowl performer Deion Sanders will come out of retirement to sign with the Ravens and serve as the "nickel" cornerback in the secondary. Sanders, who has not played since the 2000 season, confirmed his plans to ESPN.com on Sunday night.
Sanders arrived Tuesday in Baltimore, where he is expected to sign a contract and undergo a physical. Depending how long that takes, he will report to the practice facility later Tuesday or on Wednesday.
McAlister, 27, has missed all of camp and three preseason games.
"They asked him to come out last year and be more consistent, and prove to them that he was worth [a long-term contract]," agent Mitch Frankel said. "And I think he went out and showed them that, if he's not the best corner in the game, then he's surely in the top or three. I don't know what else he needs to prove."
The former University of Arizona star, and the Ravens' first-round pick in the 1999 draft, McAlister started all 16 games in 2003 and had 52 tackles, three interceptions and 16 passes defensed. The performance earned him the first Pro Bowl berth of his career, and he also was named to The Associated Press' annual All-Pro team.
Many observers feel that, because of his size and aggressive nature, McAlister is the top cornerback in the league. Clearly, he wants to be compensated as such, and landing a deal that would boost him into an elite income bracket remains a priority.
There were suggestions earlier in the spring, some raised by McAlister himself, that, because of past off-field problems -- a misdemeanor charge for possession of marijuana and a DUI charge, both of which were dropped -- Baltimore ownership might be wary of investing a big signing bonus in him. But team officials, including coach Brian Billick, denied those whispers.
Said Billick, who adamantly denied McAlister's behavior was an issue in negotiations: "We have been very respectful of Chris' position as a 'franchise' player, and we will continue to do so. We are very motivated about getting a long-term contract with Chris."
It is expected, with McAlister having signed the one-year deal, that the Ravens will be amenable to reopening dialogue on a longer contract. Frankel has pointed to the seven-year, $63 million deal awarded Champ Bailey after the Denver Broncos traded for him this spring as a possible framework.
One alternative way McAlister can earn some extra money this week might be to sell his uniform jersey, No. 21, to Sanders. The veteran cornerback can have his number, said McAlister, who lists Sanders as one of his idols, for a price.
"He'll have to make me an offer," McAlister said, "and a good one."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.