- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

The Washington Redskins could put an end to the retirement musings of cornerback Deion Sanders tomorrow.

That's when Sanders is due a $2.75 million installment on his signing bonus. The Redskins could withhold payment, likely forcing him to reveal whether he is seriously considering retirement.

The payment would be unnecessary if Sanders intends to retire. Language in Sanders' contract, The Washington Times has learned, forces him to return the prorated portion of his signing bonus if he quits the game or otherwise fails to fulfill the deal. Currently he has "earned" only $1.143 million of his $8 million bonus.

It is unclear whether the Redskins actually are considering withholding the installment or whether Sanders could guarantee it by giving the club some sort of assurance about his future. Coach Marty Schottenheimer was in Orlando, Fla., for a function and could not be reached for comment. Agent Eugene Parker did not return a phone message.

Sanders is in Sarasota, Fla., attempting to revive his baseball career at Cincinnati Reds spring training. The 33-year-old has been ambiguous in recent weeks when asked about his future in football.

It is unclear whether Sanders is truly considering retirement or simply trying to make headlines. He reportedly is miffed that Schottenheimer did not retain defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes.

But the decision to play this season has enormous financial implications. If Sanders plays, he would earn a $3.5 million salary and likely be released June 1, 2002, for salary-cap reasons. That would entitle him to keep his entire signing bonus. If he retires, he would forfeit $6.857 million in prorated bonus and $3.5 million in salary, a total of nearly $10.5 million.

The $6.857 million figure represents Sanders' signing bonus over the remaining six years of his deal. He would be subject to the following language in his contract, which was read to the Times by a league source:

"If Player refuses to report to Club, or refuses to practice or play with Club, or willfully leaves Club without its consent during the duration of the above contract years, then, upon demand by Club, Player shall return to Club the prorated share of the unearned bonus."

Such language is fairly common in NFL contracts these days because so much money is invested upfront in the form of signing bonuses, mostly for cap reasons. However, the clauses vary greatly from contract to contract.

Barry Sanders was forced to return a large portion of his signing bonus after retiring from the Detroit Lions in 1999. An arbitrator ruled that the former star running back had to pay back a prorated share each year he did not play. The money was not returned in a lump sum because Barry Sanders ostensibly could have "unretired," but he unexpectedly chose to pay the full remaining amount two months ago.

Deion Sanders was paid $2.75 million upon signing his seven-year, $56 million contract in June 2000. A $2.75 million installment is due tomorrow, and the final $2.5 million payment is to be made March 1, 2001. The installments have no effect on the salary cap, which is computed as though the bonus was paid in full upon signing.

The Redskins would not void Sanders' contract if they withheld tomorrow's payment, according to a league source. To get the money, Sanders would have to file a grievance against the club and an arbitrator would have to rule in his favor.

If Sanders retires this offseason, he would end up collecting just $1.65 million of his blockbuster deal, or less than 3 percent of its oft-stated $56 million total value.

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