The Washington Redskins are leaning strongly against releasing Deion Sanders even if the former all-pro cornerback doesn't want to play for the team, NFL sources said yesterday.
The Redskins no longer need the $3.6 million of salary cap space that releasing Sanders would create this season, and it appears team officials do not want to give Sanders an opportunity to sign with another NFL club.
Releasing Sanders would also damage the Redskins' salary cap situation in the 2002 season and hinder their attempts to force Sanders to return a portion of his signing bonus.
Sanders could be placed on the reserve-did not report list, allowing the Redskins to regain salary cap space weekly during the regular season if Sanders remains under contract but is not playing for the team.
The Redskins would consider releasing Sanders only if he agrees to return a portion of the $8 million signing bonus he received as part of the seven-year, $56 million contract that he signed with the club in June 2000, sources said.
Otherwise, the team probably would keep Sanders even if he is playing major league baseball in September, sources said. Team officials continue to believe there is about a 50 percent chance that Sanders will play for the club this season, according to sources.
Sanders, who is playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays' Class AAA affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., was not available to comment and his agent, Eugene Parker, did not return a telephone message. Redskins Coach Marty Schottenheimer was not available to comment.
Sanders has said he wants and expects to be released by the Redskins. Schottenheimer has said he believes the Redskins would be a better team with Sanders than without him this season, and he sees no need to make a decision before the club's players are scheduled to report to training camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., on July 29. The Redskins' first practice of training camp is July 30.
Sanders's contract with the Redskins requires him to report to training camp if he is not playing major league baseball. The contract allows him to miss mandatory Redskins' functions -- including practices and even games -- if he is playing major league baseball. It does not permit him to miss practices or games if he is playing minor league baseball, according to sources.
He was signed by the Blue Jays after being released by the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he hit just .173 in 32 games even after a 3-for-3 beginning on May 1 in his first big league game since 1997. Blue Jays officials have said they made no promises to Sanders about promoting him to the majors.
The cornerback's football contract calls for him to receive a salary of $3.5 million this season, which he will collect only if he plays for the Redskins. He would count about $4.7 million against the Redskins' $67.4 million salary cap this season if he plays for the team -- his salary plus a prorated portion of his signing bonus, or $1.14 million.
If the Redskins release him, Sanders would count $1.14 million against their salary cap this season and about $5.7 million against their cap during the 2002 season. The Redskins apparently would like to avoid taking such a large salary cap hit in the 2002 season. If they keep Sanders for one more season and release him after next June 1, he would count $1.14 million against their salary cap in 2002 and about $4.6 million against their cap in 2003. The club already has complicated its cap situation for 2002 by restructuring the contracts of several players to get under this season's cap.
If the Redskins retain Sanders and he refuses to join the team, the club plans to seek to force him to return up to $6.86 million of his signing bonus, according to sources. The Detroit Lions forced running back Barry Sanders via arbitration to return a portion of his signing bonus following his abrupt retirement