- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

The Washington Redskins bolstered their kickoff returns with an old nemesis yesterday, signing Carolina's Michael Bates to a two-year, $1.32 million deal.

Bates has long tormented the Redskins, including a 92-yard touchdown return in the Panthers' 20-17 loss in the 2000 season-opener at FedEx Field. The 1992 Olympic gold medal sprinter has breakaway speed and is considered a top special teams coverage player.

Agent Jim Steiner said Bates opted for the Redskins after a recent workout.

"It's a familiar part of the country, and [coach] Marty [Schottenheimer] had a lot to do with Michael signing," Steiner said.

The eight-year veteran was an unrestricted free agent, with salary cap-strapped Carolina unable to offer more than a minimum deal. The Redskins' contract includes a $100,000 bonus. That Bates is strictly a special teams player limited his options, though, because few teams sign specialists.

"The cap was a killer for him," Steiner said. "Being a special teams player, it had an impact on him in particular."

Bates, 31, spent the last five years with Carolina after stints with Cleveland (1995) and Seattle (1993-94). The five-time Pro Bowl player at returner or special teams specialist led the NFL in kickoff return yardage in 1996 and '97. His 941 yards on 42 returns last year were the NFL's 17th most.

The Redskins cleared needed salary cap room by guaranteeing safety Sam Shade's $2.3 million contract and turning a $200,000 bonus into incentives. The moves created $1.4 million under the salary cap. With Bates' costing the Redskins $625,000 against the cap, Washington is more than $1.3 million under the limit. However, the team must still sign its top four draft picks and decide whether cornerback Deion Sanders ($3.5 million) will return.

Bates' addition could threaten rookie free agent Winston October's chances of making the roster because the team probably won't keep two returners. While October also returns punts, the two-year Canadian Football League veteran may need to make the roster as a reserve receiver. The team worked out several players during offseason camps as punt returners, and Sanders could also handle punts if he returns.

Meanwhile, the Redskins are continuing negotiations with their four remaining unsigned draft choices. However, several agents felt no deals would be resolved until at least week's end and possibly close to the rookie July 25 reporting deadline.

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