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Skins status in limbo

By Len Pasquarelli Senior Writer

In the ever-changing game of leverage playing out between Deion Sanders and the Washington Redskins, the pendulum is about to swing back to the erstwhile cornerback. Sources have confirmed Sanders has agreed in principle to a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

While there is still some fine-tuning to be completed -- neither side expects any snags -- the deal should be consummated early this week. The long-term ramifications of the contract are that it could provide Sanders a vehicle for missing all of training camp and the first month of the regular season with the Redskins and perhaps precipitate his release by the NFL club.

"Maybe this will still turn out the Redskins' way, and he'll be forced to report to camp, but they are finding out at least for now that you don't easily paint Deion into a corner," a source close to Sanders said. "He's always going to look for a way to have the upper hand."

In short, while Sanders is headed north, he hopes his brief tenure with the Redskins is going south.

Designated for assignment by the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, then granted his outright release, Sanders became a free agent. Prodded by assistant general manager Dave Stewart, the Blue Jays brass attempted even during the period Sanders was in baseball limbo to acquire him via trade. Like every team, though, the Blue Jays realized the Reds would inevitably release Sanders and simply waited them out.

Sanders has agreed to report to the Class AAA affiliate, the Syracuse SkyChiefs, where he should be able to get regular at-bats. Once there, the clock will start ticking toward July 29, the date the Redskins report for training camp in Carlisle, Pa. To earn an all-important promotion back to the major leagues, his ticket out of football training camp, Sanders must hit well enough to convince Toronto officials he belongs on the roster.

His seven-year, $56 million contract with the Redskins stipulates that Sanders must report for training camp and cease all other organized team activities if he is not on a Major League Baseball roster when camp commences.

Sanders received an $8 million signing bonus from the Redskins last season. If he wasn't on a major league roster and refused to report to training camp, the club would almost certainly seek to recover a prorated share of it, or about $6.857 million. Were the Redskins to release Sanders to create additional salary cap room, as some anticipated they would have done by now, he would be able to keep the entire signing bonus.

His football base salary for 2001 is $3.5 million. Sanders could collect 1/17th of that, or nearly $206,000, even for games missed while playing baseball. Washington is about $152,000 under the salary cap and must create more room to sign its draft choices.

Sanders had three hits, including a home run, in his May 1 return to the majors. It marked his first exposure to baseball in four years. But he then slumped and was hitting only .173 in 32 games when the Reds designated him for assignment.

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