The Washington Redskins are attempting to trade No.1 wide receiver Laveranues Coles in a complicated move that would satisfy both sides’ desire to part ways.
Coach Joe Gibbs yesterday strongly denied a report Coles would be released, but club sources said the Redskins are looking hard at severing ties with Coles, who was the centerpiece of the team’s run through free agency just two years ago.
However, Washington is emphatic about getting something in return for Coles’ departure. Besides giving him a seven-year, $35million contract in 2003, the Redskins surrendered the draft’s 13th overall pick to the New York Jets because Coles was a restricted free agent.
To facilitate a trade, Coles would have to suspend part of his massive contract. He has shown a surprising willingness to “give back” part of his $13million signing bonus, but an ESPN.com report indicated the offer is contingent upon his outright release, not a trade. In addition, there are questions as to whether this unprecedented plan would pass muster with the NFL Management Council.
A source familiar with the situation said Washington has been trying for at least a week to work out a deal in which Coles would waive the final installment on his signing bonus ” $5million due April1 ” in return for the right trade. His new team then would pay the $5million and assume the remainder of his current contract.
The source said the Jets are the focus of at least some trade talks. A deal for Jets defensive end John Abraham, who has been given the franchise tag, apparently was broached. The sides also could complete a deal involving draft picks. Talks should heat up at the NFL Scouting Combine this week.
Because there are multiple fronts to a potential swap, Coles’ future won’t be resolved easily. Time pressure also exists. If Coles were to waive his final bonus payment after March1, the salary cap credit for Washington would come in 2006 instead of 2005, effectively killing the deal.
Gibbs emphasized that Coles, who has caught 172 passes in two seasons as a Redskin, won’t be cut. He said Coles has not been permitted to seek a trade, in contrast to fellow wideout Rod Gardner. The coach also indicated Coles could play in Washington in 2005.
“I’m making plans,” Gibbs said. “We’re going straight ahead and going forward with what we’ve got here. L.C. is a part of those plans. Now we’ll see what happens. But all of our conversations and everything have been productive. I think we understand each other.”
Gibbs and Coles have spoken several times since the end of the season, and Coles made it clear he was unhappy with the offense and interested in moving on. An ostensible big-play receiver, Coles generated just 950 yards on his 90 catches in 2004, and only three of his receptions went for more than 22 yards.
The Redskins, though, are similarly frustrated. A club source said Gibbs, who often has praised Coles’ toughness, isn’t pleased with the receiver’s current attitude. And there is no shortage of Redskins officials who wish Coles finally would undergo surgery to repair his right big toe.
Coles suffered a stress fracture in the toe three weeks into the 2003 season, and his play immediately suffered. Since catching 23 passes for 391 yards in his first three games as a Redskin, he has averaged just 11.8 yards a catch. His only touchdown last season came on a trick-play throw from running back Clinton Portis.
If Coles departed, the Redskins would have to acquire two starting wide receivers. Gibbs is seeking to retool an offense that ranked 30th last season. It remains unclear whether Gardner, who has played erratically in four NFL seasons, will find a trade partner for Washington.
In any case, Gibbs clearly distinguished Coles’ and Gardner’s situations and by omission signaled a less than promising outlook for Darnerien McCants.
“We feel like with James Thrash and Taylor Jacobs, we can build around those two guys, and we’ve got L.C.,” Gibbs said. “In Rod’s case, we’re looking for somebody to take that spot.”