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SANDERS' AGENT REBUFFED IN ATTEMPT TO MAKE DEAL

Barry Sanders may not be through with the NFL after all -- but his agent said he won't play for the Lions again and is willing to repay over $5 million for Detroit to let him go.

The Lions insist their retired running back owes them $5.583 million of the $11 million signing bonus he received as part of a six-year contract and have demanded he pay it back. Even if they get the money, however, they refuse to give up his rights.

In return for the money, which the Lions maintain they are due because Sanders quit after two seasons of the contract, Sanders' agent, David Ware, has asked them to trade or release the NFL's second all-time leading rusher, the strongest indication yet he may want to play again.

But the Lions have been consistent: If Sanders plays again, he plays in Detroit. He needs 1,458 yards to pass Walter Payton as the NFL's top rusher.

Ware said a trade to the right team might get Sanders back on the field. "Do I know that? No. Do I hope that? Yes. Do I think that? Yes. I think he would," Ware said. "That's just my gut feeling."

Lions VP Chuck Schmidt said there were no circumstances under which the team would part with Sanders. "We want him to finish his career as a Detroit Lion," Schmidt said.

The stalemate continues. Sanders has refused to return the bonus money and the Lions have filed a grievance. "I just personally have a very strong feeling about paying back money that you earned and getting nothing in return," Ware said. "That should not happen."

And as far as getting the money back in return for letting Sanders go, Ware said, "Release his rights and we'll pay the money."

He said there was no chance Sanders would ever play for the Lions again. "They burned that bridge when they asked for the money back a week after he retired. That bridge was on life support and then they just blew it up," Ware said. "I don't think he would have gone back and played for Detroit under any circumstances. If he would, that chance was blown real quick.

"I don't know if Barry has a real preference where he wants to play. The only place I know he won't play is Detroit. He's got 30 other possibilities. At least if he got traded, at least he would consider playing. It would be some way to recoup this money."

Ware said he wants to make it difficult for Sander to remain retired.

Lett suspended eight games

IRVING, Texas -- After three months of waiting, the Dallas Cowboys learned they can hold their nearly annual "Welcome Back Leon Lett" celebration on Nov. 9.

That date will mark the end of Lett's third substance-abuse suspension since 1995. The Cowboys' best run-stopper can return to the lineup for the Nov. 14 home game against Green Bay after missing the first eight games of the season.

"He is an outstanding football player," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We need him."

Lett has had five violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy.

The 30-year-old Lett missed four games in 1995 after testing positive for marijuana, then the last three games of 1996 and the first 13 of 1997 after testing positive for cocaine.

The Cowboys also learned that linebacker Quentin Coryatt won't be joining them this year because of chronic injuries. Coryatt, whom Indianapolis took with the No. 2 pick in the 1992 draft, sat out last season after being released by the Colts late in training camp to try to get over the aches and pains that had dogged him for years.

Former Bills back jailed

MUSKOGEE, Okla. -- Former Oklahoma State University and Buffalo Bills running back Terry Miller was sentenced by a federal judge to two years in prison for defrauding a McAlester bank out of $179,000.

"I'd like to apologize to those I hurt in this matter," the 43-year-old former All-American said. "I want to leave the impression I will do anything I can to make it up."

Miller has been a longtime community volunteer and has repaid most of his $1 million debt to The Bank, N.A., attorney Steve Stidham said.

Around the league

The Green Bay Packers shored up their kicking game by signing veteran free agent punter Louie Aguiar. The Packers have been without a dependable punter since veteran Sean Landeta signed with the Philadelphia Eagles early in the offseason. To make room for the 33-year-old Aguiar, rookie punter Chris Hanson was waived. . . . Edgerrin James is proving he's ready for the NFL, even after missing three weeks of training camp. The Colts rookie gained 112 yards on 26 carries against the Buffalo Bills and finds himself leading the NFL in rushing after his first game. . . . Bengals quarterback Akili Smith wasn't quite as ready to play after a preseason contract holdout. Pressed into duty when starter Jeff Blake suffered leg cramps, Smith couldn't lead the Bengals to a first down in two fourth-quarter series, allowing the Tennessee Titans to rally for a 36-35 victory. He felt he let the Bengals down when they were on the verge of an exhilarating win because he didn't know the offense. "This week, I promise you it won't happen again," Smith said, promising to study more to make up for all of his lost training camp time. . . . The NFL gave Los Angeles six months to come up with financing and stadium package for an expansion team, a deadline that will pass today without any action being taken. Houston is next in line for the team. The owners have a meeting to discuss and maybe vote on expansion set for Oct. 6, but there were no indications what the owners are planning to do.

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