Sanders reverses on retiring; Star may play if Lions let him go, agent says


DETROIT -- Attorney David Ware, one of two agents representing Barry Sanders, said yesterday that the retired superstar running back is thinking about a return to the NFL if the Detroit Lions will release him or trade him.

Lions chief operating officer Chuck Schmidt said the team is taking Sanders at his word -- that he is retired -- and has no reason to think about trading him.

And, Sanders -- as usual -- said nothing.

"We don't consider this an issue," Schmidt said. "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."

The latest action apparently stems from the Lions' efforts to recoup $5.6 million of the $11 million signing bonus they paid Sanders when he agreed to a five-year contract with an additional option year two years ago.

Sanders' agents -- Ware and Lamont Smith -- have fought the idea of repaying any part of the signing bonus, so the Lions filed a grievance with the NFL in accordance with the league's collective bargaining agreement. That, in effect, sent the dispute to an arbitrator.

In an interview yesterday with ESPN, Ware said Sanders, 31, was willing to repay the money if the Lions will trade him or grant him unconditional free agency.

Asked if that means Sanders wants to resume his NFL career, Ware said: "I think he's ready to consider it, in the right situation. But the right situation is not the Detroit Lions. His career is finished there."

ESPN quoted an unnamed source as saying that Sanders "definitely would return" to play if he could play with another team.

But sources familiar with the situation say the Lions aren't sure if Sanders is involved -- or even aware -- of the latest offer by Ware.

His father, William Sanders, said his son hasn't indicated whether he'll come back to football.

"I don't know what he's going to do," he said " I keep my fingers crossed."

Even in the midst of the confusion over his retirement statement -- left with a reporter in Wichita, Kan., in late July -- Sanders declined to elaborate on the reasons for his decision to retire.

Although his father said Sanders was bitter over his treatment by the Lions and coach Bobby Ross, Sanders' statement indicated only that he had grown tired of football and his desire to leave the game was greater than his desire to continue playing.

At the time, Ware said Sanders had not asked to be traded and that his decision was not about money.

When it became clear Sanders did not intend to rejoin the team, the Lions initiated efforts with Ware and Smith to get back the $5.6 million.

Said the Lions' Schmidt: "He's not saying he's unhappy with us, he's not saying he's unhappy with the coach, he's not saying he's unhappy with any circumstance, other than he wants to retire. So there's really no sense addressing any of these other issues."

Pub Date: 9/15/99

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