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FALCONS TELL DEION TO DECIDE BY THURSDAY

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The Atlanta Falcons should learn Thursday whether Deion Sanders will be part of their team this coming season.

That is the deadline for the All-Pro cornerback to decide whether to accept the Falcons' one-year contract offer of $2.88 million, pro-rated by the number of games he plays.Representatives from both sides of the negotiations said Tuesday that barring an 11th-hour compromise, Sanders will not return, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today.

If Sanders rebuffs the latest overtures, Atlanta is expected to sign former Cleveland linebacker Clay Matthews, an unresctricted free agent. Falcons coach June Jones said the team could not afford to sign both veterans.

"It's to the point now where we need a commitment," Falcons vice president of player personnel Ken Herock said. Herock has spent the past week devising a formula that would fit Sanders' salary under the $34.6 million cap.

Sanders' agent, Eugene Parker, confirmed that his client is adamant about a three-year contract.

"We're not going to be the ones to close the door. That's up to them to say," Parker said. "But their threats certainly aren't going to help the situation."

Herock said the team has "made a very substantial offer to Deion."