Fuller says no, others not so sure
The question now is: Will he take them up on their offer?
The Ravens have told Sanders that if he wants to end his retirement of three years, he would be welcome to join the team. Sanders is working out at his Dallas home in an effort to determine if his 37-year-old body can take the punishment of playing in the NFL.
"He's obviously doing his due diligence to see if this is something he really wants to do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Wednesday. "Certainly we'd love to have him in, and when we get to that point, he'll be in."
Ravens safety Corey Fuller, a good friend of Sanders, isn't so sure that Sanders is ready to put on a helmet and shoulder pads for the first time since 2000, when he was a member of the Washington Redskins. Sanders formally announced his retirement the day before the Redskins opened camp in 2001.
"I talk to him every day," Fuller said. "I know what he's going to do. The man said he's not coming. He's got four kids. It's not because he can't play anymore. It's just that the man has a lot going on outside of football."
But the Ravens are convinced that Sanders has yet to arrive at a final decision, and they're prepared to let him take his time in deciding if he wants to join the team.
"It's far enough along that when he feels he's ready, he's in," Billick said. "Deion is a professional. He doesn't want to come in here unless he's ready to go. We'll give him that kind of space, and when he feels he's physically at the right spot, then we'd love to have him."
Sanders made a name for himself at cornerback, a far more demanding position than where the Ravens would use him -- as a fifth defensive back in passing situations. Therefore, Billick isn't worried about the possibility of Sanders perhaps being a step slower than when he was known as Prime Time.
"He's a special individual with special talents. He's not too old, I can promise you that," Billick said. "It will be a work in progress to a degree, but he's not too old. He's been out of it for three years, which means he's fresh."
On that point, Fuller concurred.
"Deion is in great shape. He has a gym in his house and works out all the time. But when you get older, it comes down to your mind," Fuller said. "When you've been off for three years, you get attached to other things."
Sanders, a former major league outfielder, worked out with the Texas Rangers prior to Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Indians. He shagged flies in the outfield and took swings in the batting cage.
As he left the field, Sanders was evasive when asked about returning to the NFL.
"I'm here to talk about baseball," Sanders said. "Baseball questions only. I really miss baseball. I didn't know how much I missed it, being around the guys."
If Sanders wants to play for the Ravens, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan would happily draw up a game plan that would include him in the backfield.
"Adding depth is one thing, but adding quality depth is a whole different thing," Nolan said. "A player like that comes along, we'll do what fits that player. It will allow us to be more aggressive than we already are. A player like that allows you to do just about anything."
Most of the Ravens are excited about the possibility, too.
"Deion brings excitement to the game," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "I used to watch him as a kid, and now you get a chance to sit down with him and pick his brain. It will be very exciting when he does, uh, if he does come back."
Ravens wide receiver Kevin Johnson is excited about the prospect of running in practice against cornerback Chris McAlister, who is expected to arrive in camp next week, and Sanders, one of the finest defensive backs of the past 20 years.
"You figure, with him, Chris and Gary Baxter, you're going to get the best of both worlds," Johnson said. "You're going up against Chris, who's the best of his time right now, and Deion, one of the best of his time."
But the addition of Sanders could spell trouble for a player such as rookie cornerback Lance Frazier, who's striving to be part of the team.
"That would be another roster spot, right at the position that I'm playing," Frazier said. "That will get me either booted or put on practice squad."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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