-- Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick didn't wait for the first question to be asked at his daily media gathering at training camp; he gave an answer to the question that he knew was coming:
"The man's retired. I've got no clue," Billick said of a report that Deion Sanders was contemplating coming out of retirement to play for the Ravens. "Next question."
Sanders, one of the NFL's greatest cornerbacks and a future Hall of Famer, is 37 and has been out of football for three seasons. Yet he remains a charismatic figure, and the possibility that he might return to the NFL with the Ravens -- as first reported by the Baltimore Sun in Monday's editions -- is intriguing.
But the Ravens aren't saying much, other than they would be interested in Sanders if he came out of retirement.
"Sure, if he comes out of retirement, yeah," Billick said. "Stand in line. There would be a lot of teams interested if he came out of retirement."
Sanders hasn't played since the 2000 season, when he was with the Washington Redskins. He retired in July 2001 after 12 seasons in the NFL, in which he was named to seven Pro Bowls and won Super Bowl titles with San Francisco and Dallas.
"I don't know," said Eugene Parker, Sanders's agent, when asked if a return was imminent. "Right now, he's retired."
Sanders has gotten calls from players -- including the Ravens' Ray Lewis and Corey Fuller, his close friends -- who have asked him to consider returning to football, according to a source close to Sanders.
"If anybody can come back, he can," the source said. "But he's not going to come back to be mediocre."
Another member of Sanders's camp said that Sanders will use the next two to three weeks to work out and think about whether he wants to return.
Sanders is a free agent and can sign with any team. The Ravens are an attractive option because Sanders would not have to be the main man, according to the second source. Baltimore's secondary features two Pro Bowl players, third-year safety Ed Reed and sixth-year cornerback Chris McAlister (who has yet to report to camp because of a contract dispute), as well as a rising star in fourth-year cornerback Gary Baxter.
Instead, Sanders would be used as a nickel back in passing situations. The Ravens thought they had found their nickel back when they signed veteran Dale Carter in June, but Carter is out for the season because of a blood clot in his lung.
Sanders's post-football television career has stalled. He spent the last three seasons as part of CBS's pregame show but left in May because the network reportedly refused to double his $1 million salary. Sanders was also relieved of his hosting duties on ESPN's "The New American Sportsman" because he was only interested in fishing, and not the hunting and shooting aspects of the show. He is supposed to co-host a sports-themed talk show with comedian Paul Rodriguez.
This is not the first time that Sanders has flirted with a return to the NFL. In December 2002, Sanders said that he was interested in playing for the Oakland Raiders, who eventually wound up in the Super Bowl. The Redskins waived Sanders off their reserve-retired list, which allowed any team to claim him, and Sanders ended up with San Diego, which had the worst record of the teams that put in a claim.
Last November, Sanders told ESPN that he wanted to be considered for the Atlanta Falcons' head coaching position.
But apparently, the idea of playing still interests him.
"I never say never," Sanders said in a joint interview with The Baltimore Sun and Comcast SportsNet that was posted on the paper's Web site. "It would be a wonderful thing if I got the opportunity to play."
Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.