It's official: Sanders signs with Ravens

OWINGS MILLS – It's officially Prime Time in Baltimore.<br><br> Future Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders ended his three-year retirement Tuesday night, joining the Ravens as a nickel back after passing a physical and signing a one-year, incentive-laden contract with a base salary of $1.5 million.<br><br> "I'm happy, excited, elated. I'm here for a Super Bowl," Sanders told a small group of print reporters after eating dinner at the Ravens' training complex.

"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."

Sanders, 37, was persuaded to play football again by Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, a close friend along with defensive back Corey Fuller, who nodded and laughed while Sanders conducted an interview. Wearing a black shirt, black hat and jeans, Sanders appears to be taking an all-business approach.

The seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback will practice this morning, but isn't expected to play in the Ravens' preseason finale Thursday against the New York Giants.

Sanders last played in the NFL in 2000 with the Washington Redskins, but has been preparing extensively at his Texas estate for the Sept. 12 opener against the Cleveland Browns.

After an up-and-down season with the Redskins, where he reportedly clashed with coach Marty Schottenheimer, Sanders said he's properly motivated.

"I'm not going to say I missed the game," said Sanders, who could reportedly earn up to $2.5 million if all of his incentives are reached. "I would say there are some things unfinished. The fact that I'm back allows you to know that I never really left. I don't think I'm back. I think I'm home, and there's a difference."

Sanders's comeback was broached by Lewis in a telephone call following the revelation that nickel back Dale Carter will miss the entire season with a blood clot in his lungs.

"I knew we had a void," Lewis said. "This man has everything. He has money. He has rings. He has fame. The simple mathematics to it all is that he's just coming back to have fun and play football with his friends."

Sanders could boost the defending AFC North champions' secondary into elite status. The 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year will play 25 to 30 snaps per game and team with Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister, returning starter Gary Baxter and Pro Bowl strong safety Ed Reed.

"To have him come here is an honor," McAlister said.

"How is anybody going to score is my question?" Reed said.

Sanders said he gained an accurate barometer of his attitude during workouts, especially in comparison to his year working for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

"I feel 10 times better than I felt my last season," Sanders said. "Your passion, your fire, your tenacity, I got that back."

Now, Sanders will occupy the locker next to Fuller's.

Shutdown cornerback is a phrase coined for Sanders, but he was plagued by nagging injuries four years ago.

Sanders claimed he can actually cover 40 yards faster than the 4.38 seconds broadcast by speed coach Tom Shaw.

"Based on people whose opinions we trust, I don't think that there is any question that he's going to be able to compete at the level that he's competed at before," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There's very few of us that do things as well as we did before. At 50, I can attest to that."

Although ‘Prime Time' is known for his outspoken nature, the flamboyant cornerback drew high marks for his leadership qualities.

"We've got a lot of personalities and he's going to fit in very well," Billick said. "Maybe for one of the first times in my career in the NFL, this is not about the money. This is about a man who has a passion for a game, who's got a relationship with some players, who wants to be a part of this, but we're the byproduct. We're going to gain from this."

Echoing that testimonial, Lewis predicted a down-to-earth approach will accompany the flashiness of a man with a taste for colorful, hand-tailored suits and elaborate celebrations.

"The thing that people will not understand about Deion is that he is more than just a teacher, than a person with all the flash and talent that is portrayed," said Lewis, adding that rumors about a street race with Sanders in Puerto Rico were untrue. "He is a humble person. When he steps out onto the field, he just displays who he is. It's beautiful to see him dance. It will probably give me a couple of breaks."

The Ravens are hoping that Sanders can act as a mentor to their talented corps of young defensive backs. Sanders advised Baxter via phone after he was beaten for a long touchdown catch by Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens.

"It's more like show and tell," Sanders said. "I'm not going out there trying to teach guys. I'm going out there to do mine first. If they want more knowledge, I'm here for them."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.
 


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