The Detroit Lions have decided not to entertain trade offers for star running back Barry Sanders, scuttling the Washington Redskins' hopes of acquiring him.
Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly confirmed yesterday that Redskins officials had approached Lions officials about a possible trade for Sanders, but the idea was promptly rejected. "It was clear that Detroit had no interest in trading Barry Sanders," Casserly said.
Lions Coach Bobby Ross also told the Detroit Free Press for yesterday's editions: "We have absolutely no interest [in a trade]. I mean none whatsoever."
Ross could not be reached to comment yesterday.
The unsuccessful overture for Sanders represented another in a series of efforts by the Redskins' new owner, Daniel M. Snyder, to inject additional vigor and marquee value into a squad that went 6-10 last season and produced just one Pro Bowl honoree, punter Matt Turk.
Since NFL owners approved his $800 million purchase of the Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in May, Snyder has acknowledged having an interest in acquiring cornerback Deion Sanders and has explored signing veteran defensive end Charles Haley and troubled running back Lawrence Phillips, although none of the three appears headed toward the Redskins.
In Sanders's case, the primary deal-breaker was the salary-cap implications for the Lions, who would lose roughly $2 million against the cap if they dealt Sanders. Sanders currently counts $5.18 million against the Lions' salary cap, but would count $7.22 million if he were traded.
Moreover, Detroit has approximately $2.5 million of available cap room and still has yet to sign two first-round draft choices. Getting those players under contract likely will consume the remaining cap room, making it especially tricky to find another starting running back to replace Sanders if they were to trade him.
Even if they could find a player approaching Sanders's ability, the Lions surely couldn't find one with comparable appeal at the ticket office.
A deal for Sanders would have had weighty financial implications for the Redskins, too. The team is 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.
The Redskins' interest in Sanders was prompted by reports that he was unhappy with Lions officials and was considering retirement. But Ross said this week he expected Sanders to report to training camp July 29, along with the Lions' other veterans. Sanders, 31, enters his 11th NFL season needing 1,458 yards to break the NFL career rushing record held by Hall of Famer Walter Payton.
With Sanders unavailable, the Redskins are left with a youthful--and considerably lower-priced--tandem at running back: second-year player Skip Hicks and fourth-year player Stephen Davis. They will count for a combined $1.32 million against the Redskins' salary cap this season; Sanders would have counted for $3.375 million against the cap.
Snyder could not be reached to comment yesterday. But those familiar with his thinking said Snyder will remain aggressive in his efforts to return the Redskins to playoff form.
The Redskins have three first-round picks in the 2000 college draft, and Snyder has made it clear he would be willing to part with at least one of those picks in a trade that would improve the team and increase the entertainment value for season ticket holders.
Redskins Notes: With contract talks for first-round draft pick Champ Bailey ongoing, coaches plan to work out free agent cornerback Ryan McNeil today at Redskin Park. McNeil, 28, played two seasons with the St. Louis Rams and four with Detroit. "You can't have too many good cornerbacks," Casserly said. "Ryan McNeil has shown he has the ability to play successfully in the league. We'll see how he fits into the total picture." . . . Chris Helein, the only member of the Redskins' public relations staff not fired last Friday by Snyder, will step down from his position this Friday. . . .Showing no hesitation about the team's controversial logo and nickname, the Redskins' new owners are putting finishing touches on the new artificial turf field that is being installed at Redskin Park. The turf features a colorful Redskins helmet adorned with the team logo at midfield.