Washington Redskins officials are considering making a trade offer to the Detroit Lions for running back Barry Sanders, sources close to the situation said yesterday.
People familiar with the Redskins' internal discussions said team officials know completing such a deal would be difficult. The two teams would have major salary-cap obstacles to overcome, and it probably would take a significant offer to lure one of the most dynamic runners in NFL history from the club with which he has spent his entire professional career.
However, Sanders, who will turn 31 Friday, has been at odds with Lions officials and has contemplated retirement this offseason, according to his father. With three first-round picks in the 2000 draft, the Redskins could pull off a major trade.
There have been no trade talks yet between the Redskins and Lions regarding Sanders, sources said. However, owner Daniel M. Snyder has made it clear to his new employees that he won't be afraid to make major moves. Members of his camp have discussed the matter with Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly and Coach Norv Turner, sources said, and team officials probably will contact the Lions soon and perhaps will offer a package of draft choices for Sanders.
Snyder, after closing his $800 million purchase of the Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium from the Cooke estate yesterday, declined to comment when asked about a trade for Sanders or when asked about other specific playerrelated issues. However, he said he thinks there are moves that the Redskins can make before the season to upgrade.
"I believe we can continue to improve our team," said Snyder, the 34-year-old founder of Bethesda-based Snyder Communications Inc. and the NFL's youngest owner.
Casserly declined to comment last night.
Skip Hicks and Stephen Davis are penciled in to share running back duties this season. Turner spoke to free agent Lawrence Phillips by telephone this week, and while the gifted but troubled running back may visit Redskin Park next week, Redskins officials basically have decided against signing him, sources said. Phillips met with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue yesterday and learned he will be fined for past problems if he signs with an NFL team.
Sanders ran for 1,491 yards last season, bringing his career rushing total to 15,269 yards in 10 seasons with Detroit. He's 1,457 yards shy of Walter Payton's NFL career rushing record.
However, the Lions have won only one playoff game during Sanders's tenure, and Sanders's father, William, has said his son is tired of the team and tired of losing. Barry Sanders skipped the team's mandatory minicamp in May and voluntary workouts last month, and didn't return Coach Bobby Ross's phone calls. Lions officials have said they assume that Sanders won't report to training camp on July 29.
The salary-cap obstacles to a trade involving Sanders would be formidable. The Redskins are slightly over the $57.288 million salary cap for the upcoming season, and Sanders has four seasons remaining on a six-year, $36 million contract that included an $11 million signing bonus. For salary cap purposes, a signing bonus is divided equally for every season over the duration of a contract, so Sanders is still owed $7.3 million of his bonus. However, that amount would count against the Lions' salary cap this season if they trade him.
Even if the Redskins don't trade for Sanders, it appears possible that they could use their stockpile of draft selections to make a significant deal before the season. The Redskins have the first-round picks of the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, as well as their own first-round choice, next April.
Team officials recently inquired about Green Bay wide receiver Antonio Freeman, sources said, but didn't pursue the matter after being told that the price would be two first-round draft choices.
Meanwhile, the Redskins' most pressing business before they open their Frostburg, Md., training camp on July 25 is resolving the future of veteran linebacker Ken Harvey and signing first-round draft pick Champ Bailey.
Harvey is scheduled to speak to Redskins officials today or Friday, and the two sides could complete a deal under which Harvey would play the upcoming season for a renegotiated salary of between $400,000 and $500,000. The Redskins probably would continue to pursue free agent defensive end Charles Haley even if they retain Harvey, sources said.
Bailey and his representative have proposed several contract possibilities designed to get the University of Georgia cornerback between $9 million and $12 million if he signs a five-year contract, according to sources.
According to sources, the Redskins have insisted that Bailey agree to a five-year contract, and Bailey and agent Jack Reale have offered at least two scenarios under which they would accept a five-year deal. Under the more conventional scenario, Bailey would get a signing bonus of just under $7.5 million and receive minimum yearly salaries for five seasons, for a total package worth about $9 million. Under another scenario, sources said, Bailey would get no signing bonus and receive guaranteed annual salaries for five seasons totaling approximately $12 million.
The Redskins, sources said, have told Bailey's camp that they're willing to offer $9.5 million for a five-year deal, but with a signing bonus substantially less than $7.5 million.