- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

The staredown is about to become a standoff.

The Washington Redskins and cornerback Deion Sanders each hopes the other relents before veterans report for training camp July 29. However, the two sides seem too entrenched for a simple resolution.

It's about money and saving face. Neither side truly wants Sanders on the roster, and it's unlikely he will wind up playing for the Redskins.

Sanders wants to gain his freedom without returning any of the $8 million bonus he received last year. Sources close to Sanders said he's willing to report to camp if the team forces him to but don't expect him on time. Sanders knows if he arrives a few days late it will cause a big distraction that might aggravate the Redskins into releasing him.

Sanders would violate his contract by arriving late, but it's doubtful any judge would void the deal outright. Simple holdouts occur in NFL camps annually. Sanders can burn a few days without risk. The bottom line is he won't pay for his release.

Meanwhile, the Redskins have already planned to move on without Sanders. Cornerback Darrell Green is working out in Houston and, after an offseason meeting with Schottenheimer, is expecting to start. Green has never been an offseason workout fanatic, so spending time in Houston signifies his commitment to the season, which is expected to be his last.

The Redskins have reworked contracts so Sanders' $3.625 million is doable under the salary cap. However, it's a smoke screen. Team officials expected to release Sanders after June 1 when the second phase of free agency allowed teams to split the salary cap impact over two seasons.

Because Sanders' baseball comeback with the Cincinnati Reds failed last month, the Redskins delayed the release. That keeps Sanders from immediately joining another NFL team and devalues his price in the preseason, when teams have little cap room remaining. If Sanders pays even a token amount for his release, the Redskins will save a modicum of face in what was a bad deal from the start.

However, forcing Sanders to play would be disastrous. Sanders might say the right things before the cameras, but his backroom remarks about how he trusts Schottenheimer as far as he could throw him rankled the coach. The last thing Schottenheimer wants is poison in the locker room. Several of last year's staff, since dismissed, said Sanders showed no desire to play. Two assistants said Sanders couldn't name 10 teammates after calling interim coach Terry Robiskie "Robinskie" following a loss. That number seems low. Sanders might have been able to name 20 of 52 teammates.

Sanders said he was upset that the team did not inform him before the release of defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes in January. That's another smoke screen. It was obvious Rhodes wanted to leave the team when he refused to succeed fired coach Norv Turner for the final three games. Sanders knows that. It's just a convenient excuse.

It shouldn't be overlooked that Sanders played poorly at times last year. With the emergence of cornerback Champ Bailey as a Pro Bowl performer, quarterbacks will continue to challenge Sanders or his successor. And Sanders' failure to prepare for football during the offseason makes his play even more questionable.

The Redskins and Sanders have danced for six weeks because time wasn't an issue. However, Schottenheimer returns from vacation Monday, and things quickly will get serious. The Redskins may release Sanders shortly before camp starts. They could stick him on the "Did Not Report" list and wait in order to save money during the holdout should it reach the regular season. Sanders might even report and grouse his way off the roster.

Either way, there's no easy ending to Sanders' departure.

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