Sanders leaning toward return with Ravens, but timing unclear

Veteran might wait to see if team is in playoff hunt

Pro Football

August 18, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Deion Sanders appears primed to make his comeback official.

The seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback is leaning toward ending his three-year retirement and playing for the Ravens this season barring any setback in his training regimen or "last-minute change of heart," a league source told The Sun yesterday.

Sanders, 37, whose electrifying play produced the nickname "Prime Time," is working out at his home outside Dallas to test his conditioning.

Ravens officials said Sanders has not notified them of any decision.

"Obviously, the talent that Deion represents, if he indeed wants to come back to the NFL, we would love to have him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We will certainly do everything we can to make that happen. But it's lining up well."

Although it looks as if Sanders will come back and play nickel back (fifth defensive back), it's still uncertain when he might actually return.

It was originally believed Sanders would try out for the Ravens in two weeks. But according to ESPN last night, there is a chance he could wait until October or November to see if the Ravens are still in playoff contention before reporting to the team.

That would not be a new scenario for Sanders. The last time he attempted a comeback was December 2002, when he tried to join the playoff-bound Oakland Raiders before the San Diego Chargers claimed him off waivers.

ESPN also reported on its Web site yesterday that Sanders is "definitely" going to play for the Ravens after seeking counsel from former NBA superstar Michael Jordan.

"Michael Jordan made it simple for Deion: `If [playing] is still in your heart, go do it,'" the source told ESPN.

Sanders could not be reached for comment, and his agent, Eugene Parker, did not return phone calls.

A source close to Sanders said nothing is definite with the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Because of Sanders' unpredictable personality, it wouldn't be a surprise if he had a sudden change in attitude if his workouts convinced him that he can't play at a level consistent with what he has come to expect out of himself, the source added.

Asked Monday about the chances of returning, Sanders told The Sun, "I never say never. It would be a wonderful thing if I got the opportunity to play."

A defender who defined the term "shutdown corner," Sanders has not played since a mediocre season with the Washington Redskins in 2000.

Sanders has been working out at his 85-acre Prosper, Texas, estate, where he has built a football field. He has been running 40- and 100-yard sprints.

The biggest incentives to return for a 13th NFL season is another run at the Super Bowl and a chance to play alongside longtime friends Ray Lewis and Corey Fuller.

The major deterrents are that Sanders could look old, tarnishing his reputation as one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history, and he would delay his likely induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was scheduled to be included in the class of 2006.

Sanders owns the NFL record with 18 touchdowns on returns (fumbles, kickoffs, punts and interceptions). He won Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.

His comeback would mark his first time as a reserve. He would only play in passing situations, replacing Fuller as the nickel back. That position has been a weak one for the Ravens since Dale Carter was lost for the season with a blood clot on his lung.

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Ravens (1-0) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)

Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

When: Friday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Eagles by 3

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