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Lions career over
Sanders offers to repay bonus if he's traded or released
Posted: Wednesday September 15, 1999 02:07 AM
ATLANTA (CNN/SI) -- The door may still be slightly open for the possible return of Barry Sanders to the NFL.
Sanders' agent told CNN/SI on Tuesday that his client would be willing to repay his signing bonus if the Detroit Lions release him or trade him to another team.
David Ware, Sanders' Atlanta-based agent, said that he and Sanders are frustrated with the Lions' unwillingness to discuss the possibility of releasing Sanders, or trading his rights to another team, which could pave the way for Sanders to return to the NFL.
"We've been saying all along, since they need the cap relief, we've told them, 'If you release his rights, or under the right circumstances trade his rights, we'll give you the cap relief,'" Ware said. "They said no. We said, 'He'll never play for you again.' Their response is, 'If he plays again, he'll play for us.'"
Ware said that the star running back hasn't indicated whether he would return.
"I think he's ready to consider it, in the right situation," Ware told the Detroit Free Press for a report Wednesday. "But the right situation is not the Detroit Lions. His career is finished there."
That means his career is finished period, Lions chief operating officer Chuck Schmidt said.
"We don't consider this an issue," Schmidt told the newspaper. "We've said all along that when Barry signed the contract it was understood that he would retire a Detroit Lion, he'd finish his career in Detroit.
"And unfortunately that's what he's decided. If he decides to come back, we'll welcome him back. And if he retires again, he will retire a Detroit Lion."
Sanders has not filed his official retirement papers with the NFL.
His father, William Sanders, said his son hasn't indicated whether he'll come back to football.
"I was hoping he'd never quit," he said. "I don't know what he's going to do. ... I keep my fingers crossed."
The Lions would not confirm whether Ware had contacted them on this matter.
"Our position remains the same -- that we honored his retirement wishes and we expected the repayment of the prorated portion," Lions spokesman Bill Keenist said.
Detroit filed a grievance last week to recover $5.4 million of the $11 million signing bonus Sanders got when he signed a six-year, $36 million contract signed in 1997. Sanders, who needs only 1,458 yards to break Walter Payton's career rushing record, disagrees with Detroit's claim that he is required to repay a portion of the bonus if he doesn't play.
Sanders did not collect a $1.7 million deferred payment due this fall on the original bonus. He also forfeited his 1999 base salary of $3.125 million and a reporting bonus of $250,000 by retiring.
He said he has spoken to Lions officials frequently since Sanders announced his retirement, asking Sanders to be released or traded if he repays the portion of the bonus.
"We think this thing could go either way with an arbitrator," Ware said. "The fact that the Lions have pursued this course has burned any bridge, any possibility, that he would return to the club. But Barry will write the check right now if they'll let him go or trade him."
Ware said he has contacted three Lions officials, including club owner William Clay Ford, asking to be released or traded if he repays the portion of the bonus.
"We spoke to the owner, we spoke to the owner's son, we spoke to management," Ware said. "They all say no. We asked why, and they said, 'Because he's got to play for us.' There's nothing we can do. We've done everything. If somebody wants to tell me what else we can do, we'll do it."
NFL rules governing the salary cap make it impossible for the Lions to trade Sanders this year. They would take an accelerated hit of $7.3 million. If Sanders returns the signing bonus, they can trade him next year without a salary-cap penalty, The Detroit News reported.
William Sanders said he doesn't blame the Lions for taking the stand they have.
"I wouldn't release him either if I had a Barry Sanders on a contract," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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