posted on Aug, 16 2004 @ 02:27 PM
While no decision is forthcoming, and not likely to be made until Deion Sanders puts himself through a strenuous training regimen for the next few
weeks, the future Hall of Fame cornerback is seriously considering a comeback after three seasons off the field.
Sources close to Sanders confirmed for ESPN.com on Monday that one of the premier coverage defenders of his time could join the Baltimore Ravens as
their nickel back. The possibility of his return was first reported Monday by the Baltimore Sun.
"Neon Deion" lit up NFL stadiums for 12 years with electrifying plays on both sides of the ball.
The public stance of Ravens officials is that Sanders is retired but that the club would be interested if he decides to return. League sources said
that, while the Ravens will likely downplay their interest, they are more than intrigued, and will almost certainly sign Sanders if he lets them know
he is prepared to play.
"To my knowledge, Deion Sanders is retired," Ravens coach Brian Billick told the Sun. "That kind of takes him off our radar. If he decides to
unretire, like any number of other teams, we would be interested."
Baltimore lost its projected nickel cornerback for the entire 2004 season when veteran Dale Carter, who signed with the Ravens this spring as a free
agent, developed a blood clot in his lung. Shortly afterward, Sanders was contacted by Baltimore star middle linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive back
Corey Fuller, both close friends of Sanders, who planted the seed for his potential return to the game.
"As you know, with Deion, when he takes something like this on, he does it seriously," said a source close to Sanders. "So, yeah, he's into it. But he
needs to test himself. He knows he can still run, that he can 'get out' with anybody, but he's going to take about two weeks to run and do
conditioning work, and see how he feels. But you know, if he comes back, he wants to come back with a bang."
He also wants to come back with a winner and, along with being good friends with several Ravens players, Sanders is convinced Baltimore can be a Super
Bowl contender. He has followed the team closely and was aware, even before being contacted by Fuller and Lewis, of the untimely loss of Carter.
Sanders, 37, has not played since the 2000 season, which he spent with the Washington Redskins. He retired on the eve of the team's training camp in
2001, though considered making a comeback in 2002. At that point, Sanders discussed the possibility of playing for Oakland. His intention was taken
seriously enough that, because the 'Skins had placed him on their reserve-retired list, the Chargers claimed him off waivers before the playoff-bound
Raiders could make a move.
Last year, Sanders told ESPN.com that he wanted to be considered for the head coaching position with the Atlanta Falcons, the team with which he began
his playing career, as a first-round choice in the '89 draft out of Florida State. He has worked since his retirement as a studio analyst, but this
spring was bumped from the CBS pregame show when the the network offered him only half of the $2 million he wanted to continue in the role he'd had
for three years.
Sanders was also let go by ESPN after a short run on The New American Sportsman. Sanders is currently slated to co-host a sports-themed cable show
with comedian Paul Rodriguez.
This spring, Sanders worked in Atlanta with Arkansas cornerback Ahmad Carroll, who went on to become the first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers.
Carroll is represented by Eugene Parker, who is Sanders' longtime agent. Those who watched the workouts, in which Sanders was mentoring Carroll, said
that Sanders ran impressively, even after his three-year NFL hiatus.
Notable is that Parker and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome have a very close professional relationship.
However, the Ravens, whose defensive backs are the weak link in one of the league's best defenses, would have to compensate the Chargers if Sanders
indeed decides to play for a 13th season.
A seven-time Pro Bowl performer, Sanders was one of the league's most electrifying performers during most of his 12-year career. In addition to
defining the term "shut-down" corner, he occasionally played on offense and also returned kickoffs and punts. His resume includes 18 touchdowns.
Early in his career, Sanders excelled on two fronts, becoming the only professional athlete to play in both the Super Bowl (with the 49ers in '94 and
Cowboys in '95) and the World Series (Braves, '92). As a Braves outfielder and a cornerback for the Falcons, Sanders was also the only pro athlete
ever to hit a home run and score a touchdown within a seven-day span. The owner of 48 career interceptions, Sanders is the only player in Super Bowl
history to have both an interception and a pass reception.
"He's at a point now where he wouldn't do it if he had to be the main guy again," said one source. "But with the Ravens, he wouldn't have to be the
top cornerback, given the talent they have. But he would still play a key role, as the nickel, and that intrigues him."