Ravens interested if Sanders jumps

While no decision is forthcoming, and not likely to be made until Deion Sanders puts himself through a strenuous training regimen for the next few weeks, the future Hall of Fame cornerback is seriously considering a comeback after three seasons off the field.

Sources close to Sanders confirmed for ESPN.com on Monday that one of the premier coverage defenders of his time could join the Baltimore Ravens as their nickel back. The possibility of his return was first reported Monday by the Baltimore Sun.

"I never say never," Sanders said in a joint interview with the Sun and Comcast SportsNet on Monday. "It would be a wonderful thing if I got the opportunity to play."

Sanders' longtime agent, Eugene Parker, said no timetable has been set for a decision.

The public stance of Ravens officials is that Sanders is retired but that the club would be interested if he decides to return. League sources said that, while the Ravens will likely downplay their interest, they are more than intrigued, and will almost certainly sign Sanders if he lets them know he is prepared to play.

"To my knowledge, Deion Sanders is retired," Ravens coach Brian Billick told the Sun. "That kind of takes him off our radar. If he decides to unretire, like any number of other teams, we would be interested."

Baltimore lost its projected nickel cornerback for the entire 2004 season when veteran Dale Carter, who signed with the Ravens this spring as a free agent, developed a blood clot in his lung. Shortly afterward, Sanders was contacted by Baltimore star middle linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive back Corey Fuller, both close friends of Sanders, who planted the seed for his potential return to the game.

"As you know, with Deion, when he takes something like this on, he does it seriously," said a source close to Sanders. "So, yeah, he's into it. But he needs to test himself. He knows he can still run, that he can 'get out' with anybody, but he's going to take about two weeks to run and do conditioning work, and see how he feels. But you know, if he comes back, he wants to come back with a bang."

He also wants to come back with a winner and, along with being good friends with several Ravens players, Sanders is convinced Baltimore can be a Super Bowl contender. He has followed the team closely and was aware, even before being contacted by Fuller and Lewis, of the untimely loss of Carter.

Sanders, 37, has not played since the 2000 season, which he spent with the Washington Redskins. He retired on the eve of the team's training camp in 2001, though considered making a comeback in 2002. At that point, Sanders discussed the possibility of playing for Oakland. His intention was taken seriously enough that, because the 'Skins had placed him on their reserve-retired list, the Chargers claimed him off waivers before the playoff-bound Raiders could make a move.

Last year, Sanders told ESPN.com that he wanted to be considered for the head coaching position with the Atlanta Falcons, the team with which he began his playing career, as a first-round choice in the '89 draft out of Florida State. He has worked since his retirement as a studio analyst, but this spring was bumped from the CBS pregame show when the the network offered him only half of the $2 million he wanted to continue in the role he'd had for three years.

Sanders was also let go by ESPN after a short run on The New American Sportsman. Sanders is currently slated to co-host a sports-themed cable show with comedian Paul Rodriguez.

This spring, Sanders worked in Atlanta with Arkansas cornerback Ahmad Carroll, who went on to become the first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers. Carroll is also represented by agent Eugene Parker. Those who watched the workouts, in which Sanders was mentoring Carroll, said that Sanders ran impressively, even after his three-year NFL hiatus.

Notable is that Parker and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome have a very close professional relationship.

However, the Ravens, whose defensive backs are the weak link in one of the league's best defenses, would have to compensate the Chargers if Sanders indeed decides to play for a 13th season.

A seven-time Pro Bowl performer, Sanders was one of the league's most electrifying performers during most of his 12-year career. In addition to defining the term "shut-down" corner, he occasionally played on offense and also returned kickoffs and punts. His resume includes 18 touchdowns.

Early in his career, Sanders excelled on two fronts, becoming the only professional athlete to play in both the Super Bowl (with the 49ers in '94 and Cowboys in '95) and the World Series (Braves, '92). As a Braves outfielder and a cornerback for the Falcons, Sanders was also the only pro athlete ever to hit a home run and score a touchdown within a seven-day span. The owner of 48 career interceptions, Sanders is the only player in Super Bowl history to have both an interception and a pass reception.

"He's at a point now where he wouldn't do it if he had to be the main guy again," said one source. "But with the Ravens, he wouldn't have to be the top cornerback, given the talent they have. But he would still play a key role, as the nickel, and that intrigues him."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.