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Ravens Pay the Prime Rate

Sanders, 37, comes out of retirement to sign a contract that could be worth $4 million with Baltimore, which will use him as a nickel back.

September 01, 2004|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Is Deion Sanders past his prime?

The Baltimore Ravens don't think so, and Tuesday they brought the 37-year-old defensive back out of retirement by signing him to a one-year deal that reportedly is worth $1.5 million with almost $2.5 million more in incentives.

Sanders, who has not played since spending the 2000 season with the Washington Redskins, will practice for the first time with the Ravens today and is expected to be ready for the season opener Sept. 12 at Cleveland.

The Ravens plan to use him as a fifth defensive back -- a nickel back -- and say he'll play between 25 and 30 snaps a game, a far cry from his days as a seven-time Pro Bowl player but a considerable amount for a defensive back his age.

"Based on the people we've talked to, opinions we trust, I'm sure there's no question he's going to be able to compete," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said. "At the level he competed before? There's very few of us that can do things as well as we did before. At 50, I can attest to that. But what he will bring to the table for us will be substantial."

Sanders, who earlier in the day passed a physical exam, spoke to a small group of reporters Tuesday evening as he left team headquarters in Owings Mills, Md.

"I'm here for a Super Bowl," he said. "I'm not here to kick it. I'm here to win. I'm here to help my little brothers fulfill their dreams. That's the only reason to come."

Among the more flamboyant -- and talented -- players in league history, Sanders went by the nickname "Neon Deion" early in his career and "Prime Time" later. He played for Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas and Washington, and was widely regarded as the best cover cornerback of his era, and perhaps ever.

"To have him come here is an honor," Raven cornerback Chris McAlister told reporters. "There's so much that you can learn from a Deion Sanders; he's the type of guy that can take a young DB and make him grow up mentally, and prepare him for situations he otherwise wouldn't get without the experience himself."

The addition of Sanders was the second piece of good news for Baltimore's secondary this week. Earlier, McAlister, a Pro Bowl corner, returned to the team after sitting out most of training camp to protest receiving the franchise-player designation for a second consecutive year.

The Raven defense ranked third in the NFL last season -- sixth against the rush, and fourth against the pass. Linebacker Ray Lewis, a close friend of Sanders, figures the newest addition to the team should only bolster those numbers.

"This man has everything," Lewis said. "He has money, he has [Super Bowl] rings, he has fame, he has all of that," Lewis said. "But the simple mathematics of it all is he's just coming back to have fun and play football with his friends."

After retiring from football, Sanders worked as a television analyst and at one point offered himself as an NFL head coach. He spoke to Michael Jordan about the risk of making a comeback, and told James Brown of Sporting News Radio that "no way would I put myself on Front Street to allow my teammates a letdown when they are counting on me, let alone the fans when they are paying for a ticket. I need to give them what they deserve."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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