- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

As long as Deion Sanders keeps playing baseball, he will keep his entire signing bonus from the Washington Redskins.

A clause in Sanders' contract allows him to miss minicamps, training camp and even regular-season games as long as baseball is the reason for his absence, league sources said yesterday.

Sanders' outstanding recent play in the minor leagues and likely promotion to the Cincinnati Reds next week leaves the Redskins with a major decision.

Washington could cut Sanders after June 1 to gain $3.5 million of salary cap space, delaying the negative effect of the move until 2002. Or the club could wait for Sanders to report. By placing Sanders on the Did Not Report list in the meantime, the Redskins would recoup 1/17th of his $3.5 million salary against the cap with each game he missed.

Baseball's regular season ends Sept. 30, the day of Washington's fourth regular-season game. If the Reds make the postseason, Sanders could miss several additional weeks.

"Really, the decision is on [the Redskins] at this point," Eugene Parker, Sanders' agent, told FoxSports.com this week. "I think probably they want to wait and see how he does in baseball, see what happens when he's called up" to the Reds, most likely on Tuesday.

Indeed, the Redskins' worries could be resolved if Sanders' play drops off significantly in the majors. Through Monday's games with Class AAA Louisville, Sanders was batting an International League-leading .453. He was named the league's player of the week after hitting .700 last week.

A technicality in baseball rules prevents Sanders from being called up until May 1. It appears certain the Reds will do that, hoping he can become their leadoff hitter.

If Sanders plays poorly in the majors, he might report to the Redskins in time for training camp.

If he continues playing well, he might shift his priority from football to baseball. Baseball would allow Sanders, 33, to play a sport where careers often last into players' late 30s and early 40s, and where contracts offer guaranteed money.

Parker, who did not return a phone call from The Washington Times, said Sanders also wants to make a mark in baseball, where he never became a star at the highest level.

"I think there is some unfinished business for him in baseball," Parker said. "A competitor like that, when you've mastered one thing, and not quite mastered the other, it's a challenge that keeps you going. I think that's part of it.

"Deion has played the cornerback position. When you are respected to the point where people wouldn't even throw your way, it could get pretty boring. And to try and keep yourself mentally into the game, that was not happening… . With baseball, every at-bat is a new adventure."

If Sanders retires from football, he would put his $8 million signing bonus into jeopardy. His football contract contains language, similar to most deals these days, that requires him to participate in practices and games or forfeit the prorated portion of his bonus.

But the clause that allows him to play baseball and Sanders' surprisingly strong play in the sport puts the onus on the Redskins. They might not want to carry his $4.6 million cap figure if he isn't going to prepare himself for the season and is going to miss games. Washington has needs at other positions that could be addressed with the added cap space.

However, cutting Sanders would allow him to sign with another NFL team when the baseball season is complete. Putting Sanders on the Did Not Report list which would create no instant cap relief would allow the Redskins to retain his rights.

Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer has made two moves in the past week to prepare for Sanders' absence. On Friday he signed Donovan Greer to be a reserve cornerback, and on Saturday he drafted highly rated Fred Smoot in the second round. Darrell Green, 41, likely would begin the season in Sanders' starting role.

Schottenheimer, who did not return a phone call, has shot down speculation that Sanders' time with the team is limited. Asked Monday if he drafted Smoot to replace Sanders, Schottenheimer replied: "I know on the surface it may appear that way, but it really had nothing to do with that."

Schottenheimer said he has spoken to Parker several times. The coach said he has not been able to reach Sanders.

"They're going to have to look at it and see what may be in their best interest," Parker said. "They haven't indicated to us what they might do… . The only thing [Schottenheimer] told me was he understands the situation, and he'll just deal with it. He told me to let Deion know that everything is OK at this point. But Marty has to go on and do what he has to do."

Note The Philadelphia Eagles yesterday matched a three-year offer the Redskins made last week to defensive tackle Paul Grasmanis, an Eagles official said. Grasmanis is a five-year veteran who had an individually negotiated right of first refusal.

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