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Sanders back in the U.S.

A retired Barry Sanders returns home after his European vacation, and the Lions have begun the signing bonus reclaiming process.

If Barry Sanders has any thoughts about rejoining the Lions, he might want to do it soon _ before he has to write the team a check for $7.3-million.

The Lions _ apparently taking his announced retirement seriously _ have begun the process of reclaiming the unearned portion of the $11-million signing bonus they gave him when he signed a six-year contract in 1997.

Chief operating officer Chuck Schmidt said Thursday that the Lions had discussed the payback procedure this week with Sanders' agents _ attorney David Ware of Atlanta and Lamont Smith of Denver.

"Early in the week," Schmidt said. "And then we said we were going to touch back with them again in a week.

"We didn't set a timetable, but we left it open, that we're going to talk to each other fairly soon."

If it were up to the Lions _ from owner William Clay Ford on down _ Sanders would call off his retirement and rejoin the team in time for the Sept. 12 season opener at Seattle.

And it's not unreasonable to assume they initiated the bonus repayment talks as soon as they did _ barely a week after Sanders announced his retirement July 27 _ to apply not-so-subtle pressure to get him to reconsider.

With Sanders back in the United States after a European vacation, the Lions obviously are eager to meet or at least talk to him about the possibilities of rejoining the team.

Vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. has enlisted the help of Sanders' father, William, to try to set up a meeting. But as of Thursday, everything was on hold.

William Sanders and Schmidt were waiting to hear from the star running back but as usual, Barry was making himself scarce. Although he had been spotted Wednesday night at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, he was nowhere to be found the next day.

Schmidt was in his office, but hadn't heard from Sanders or from Lions security director Jocko Hughes, who has been spending time at the William Sanders home in Wichita, Kan.