Posted Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, at 4:21 PM
As the National Football League heads into
with its players union, with the owners insisting the last
was too favorable to the employees, the Indianapolis Colts have cut former All-Pro safety
, three years into his "five year" contract.
Unlike owners in Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association, NFL owners are not obligated to uphold contracts from one year to the next, but are free to dump a player who gets hurt or whose nominally agreed-upon salary seems inconvenient to pay. Sanders, who was frequently injured before and after signing for a notional 5 years and $37.5 million, qualified on both counts.
Sanders was willing, if not always able, to lead the Colts defense by throwing his five-foot-eight body into violent collisions. In the
, he missed 12 out of 16 regular-season games, but returned for the postseason, where he had two playoff interceptions as the Colts won the Super Bowl. Overall, he has averaged less than 7 games per season in a seven-year career, having suffered significant injuries to his
This has led to Sanders being called "
" or "
," but the more remarkable thing has been his ability to revive his career after multiple season-ending injuries. It's not unusual that a football player gets badly hurt; it's unusual that a badly hurt football player keeps bouncing back to play the game (however briefly) at an
According to the NFL Players Association's Frequently Asked Questions for would-be players,
average "about 3 and a half seasons." Under the
, every player taken in the NFL draft would reportedly have to wait at least four years—that is, longer than the average career—to be eligible for free agency, and would be unable to renegotiate or extend the contract for the first three of those years.