-- Chris McAlister was back on the Baltimore Ravens' practice field in his No. 21 jersey, having ended his month-long holdout by signing his one-year, $7.1 million tender Monday. McAlister could be joined very shortly by another Pro Bowl cornerback, one who also is identified by the No. 21: Deion Sanders.
Sanders appears ready to end his three-year retirement and join the Ravens either Tuesday or Wednesday.
"We're very optimistic that Deion will be here," Coach Brian Billick said. "Until Deion shows up in body and signs a contract, I've got to qualify it. We're ready either way. The signs are awfully optimistic now, awfully optimistic. It's like the political pulse you see. Check with me tomorrow, because it seems to change by the minute."
Sanders's agent, Eugene Parker, did not respond to a phone message left Monday.
Sanders, 37, has not played since the 2000 season, when he was with the Washington Redskins. He has spent the past month working out and reportedly has run a 4.38-second 40-yard dash.
"We'll put him through a physical, certainly, to make sure that he is physically ready to go, that there is no ailment lingering," Billick said. "We have no indication to believe that is the case. He's in good shape. I don't have to run him in the 40 to see that he's okay."
The secondary features two Pro Bowl players -- McAlister and safety Ed Reed -- along with Gary Baxter, whom the Ravens view as a rising star at cornerback. Sanders would fill the one weak spot, nickel back.
"It can be the best in the game right now," McAlister said of the Ravens' secondary. "I think Deion, even coming out of retirement, is a lot more valuable, a lot more seasoned than a lot of corners in the league today.
"It's all a matter of his conditioning level. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't come back unless he felt like he could go out there and still play the game like he's used to."
McAlister, 27, missed all of training camp as well as the first three preseason games to protest being named the franchise player for the second straight year. He seemed happy to be back with the Ravens, and didn't express any bitterness toward the business side of the situation, saying: "It is what it is. I'm not upset. The fact is, I'm the franchise player again. I'm being compensated for it."
The Ravens and McAlister's agent, Mitch Frankel, will resume negotiations on a contract this week in hopes that a deal can be reached before the season. Frankel has invoked the names of Denver's Champ Bailey (seven years, $63 million, $18 million signing bonus) and Oakland's Charles Woodson when talking about compensation for a Pro Bowl cornerback in his prime.
The six-year veteran spent the past month working with a trainer in California, and even trained while wearing a 20-pound vest to simulate shoulder pads and a helmet. He said that he felt refreshed ("Maybe it's because [of] the lack of training camp"), and that he wants to play in the Ravens' final preseason game Thursday against the Giants at New York.
McAlister also said that he would be "100 percent" ready to face Cleveland in the season opener on Sept. 12. One of the reasons he reported on Monday -- rather than next week -- was that he felt he needed two weeks to prepare for the Browns.
McAlister said that he would be willing to give his number to Sanders in exchange for cash. But Baxter said that he fully expects McAlister to wear No. 21 this season.
"I know what number Deion wants, but I can't expose that yet," Baxter said with a laugh.
Ravens Notes: The Ravens made several roster moves, the day before the NFL deadline to trim rosters to 65 players. The team placed rookie return specialist Derek Abney (shoulder), second-year tight end Trent Smith (leg) and veteran cornerback Fred Weary (quadriceps) on injured reserve and waived 13 players, 11 of whom were rookie free agents. Wide receiver Kareem Kelly, who spent the 2003 season on the practice squad, rookie defensive tackle Bryan Save, who was signed Aug. 24, and former Maryland tackle Eric Dumas were among those released. Rosters must be reduced to 53 players, not including the eight-man practice squad, by Sept. 5.