The long-anticipated end of cornerback Deion Sanders's tenure with the Washington Redskins may not be imminent after all. The Redskins are giving last-minute consideration to retaining Sanders, sources close to the situation said yesterday.
While there appears to be a strong possibility the Redskins will release Sanders, perhaps this week, to clear more than $3.6 million of salary cap space, some negotiation between Sanders and the team appears to be a possibility.
Sanders has struggled in his baseball comeback, hitting less than .200 for the Cincinnati Reds. Sources familiar with the situation estimate the chances Sanders will remain with the Redskins range from 10 to 50 percent.
Redskins Coach Marty Schottenheimer was not available to comment. But he said late last week no decision regarding Sanders's future has been made, and the team would begin considering its options Monday.
Sanders, 33, is hitting .172 in his return to the Reds. He has 10 hits in his 61 at-bats since his 3-for-3 performance May 1 in his first major league game since 1997. Reds General Manager Jim Bowden always has been Sanders's strongest supporter in baseball, and he said recently he remained confident Sanders would make his comeback work. One baseball source said yesterday, however, other members of the Reds organization have questioned whether the club should release him or demote him to the minor leagues.
Sanders, who was not available to comment yesterday, probably would not be signed by another major league team if released. Redskins officials suspect Sanders would not want to leave both football and baseball if he is released by the Reds. He has six seasons remaining on the seven-year, $56 million contract he signed with the Redskins last June following his release by the Dallas Cowboys.
Schottenheimer likes to build his defense around cornerbacks who can cover wide receivers effectively one on one, freeing linebackers and sometimes safeties to pressure quarterbacks with blitzes. Sanders and Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey helped the Redskins become the NFL's second-ranked pass defense last season.
If Sanders did return, several other players might be released for financial reasons and others, including veteran cornerback Darrell Green, might have their roles and contracts restructured. The Redskins have added two cornerbacks, second-round draft pick Fred Smoot and free agent Donovan Greer.
The relationship between Schottenheimer and Sanders would have to be repaired for Sanders to return to the Redskins. Sanders criticized Schottenheimer after former defensive coach Ray Rhodes left the team, and he has told associates he would not play for Schottenheimer.