The Baltimore Ravens signed Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister to a seven-year contract, locking up one of the key pieces of their defense.

Terms of the deal, which was reached Saturday, were not released, though General Manager Ozzie Newsome said yesterday that the new deal makes McAlister one of the better-paid defensive players in the NFL.

"I think we've shown, and I think it's shown throughout the league that you win in this league on defense if you have a corner that can go out and cover some of the better receivers in this league," Newsome said. "Chris proved that he could last year, and has continued to do it this year. If you're going to play good defense, you've got to have good corners."

McAlister, 27, missed all of training camp, including the first three preseason games, to protest being named Baltimore's franchise player for the second straight year. He finally reported at the end of August and signed a one-year, $7.1 million tender. Since then, Newsome and Mitch Frankel, McAlister's agent, had been working on a long-term contract. Talks accelerated in the last couple of weeks because McAlister expressed his desire to remain a Raven, Newsome said.

The Ravens selected McAlister with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft. He has developed into one of the league's top cornerbacks and was named to his first Pro Bowl last season. Entering last night's game against the Washington Redskins, McAlister had one interception this season, which he returned 51 yards for a touchdown in the Ravens' 30-13 win over Pittsburgh.

-- Camille Powell