U.S. District Judge David Doty issued an order Friday in Minneapolis returning the Deion Sanders salary case to a New York-based special master for settlement.
The NFL is challenging the cornerback's $35-million contract with the Dallas Cowboys, saying it contains a record signing bonus, minimum base salaries and voidable years--mechanisms the league contends circumvent the salary cap.
In his ruling, Doty said the matter would be turned over to Special Master John Fearick, with the Cowboys to submit briefs next Thursday and the NFL by Nov. 6.
Fearick "shall hold a hearing on the merits of the dispute as promptly thereafter as possible, and shall render his decision on an expedited basis," Doty said.
Then, he added, he would entertain briefs challenging Fearick's decision and hold a hearing.
Meanwhile, Doty said, Sanders can play and practice with the Cowboys while a temporary stay bars any league action on the contract.
"They're just making a big deal out of it because it's myself and [Cowboy owner] Jerry Jones," Sanders told the Dallas Morning News in his first lengthy interview on the debate. "They should have made a big deal out of last year's contract. That is the one they should have looked into--not this year."
Sanders was instrumental last season in helping San Francisco win the Super Bowl.
Tight end Keith Jackson, who finally reported to Green Bay this week after a 91-day "retirement" following his trade from the Miami Dolphins, was activated by the Packers.
Jackson, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, will play Sunday at Detroit, Coach Mike Holmgren said. Tight end Jeff Wilner was waived.