- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The Washington Redskins yesterday appeared likely to obtain wide receiver Laveranues Coles. His current team, the New York Jets, seemed more interested in taking the Redskins' first-round draft pick (13th overall) than matching his blockbuster offer sheet.
Coles, an 89-catch receiver last season with dangerous speed, arrived at Redskin Park late in the afternoon after agreeing to Washington's seven-year, $35million proposal. He is scheduled to undergo a physical this morning and afterward sign the offer sheet.
The Jets will have until 4p.m. next Tuesday to match, a prospect people around the league considered unlikely.
"I wouldn't be disappointed [if the Jets match]," Coles said as he left Redskin Park. "[But] obviously the Redskins feel I would be a good fit for their system and I'm the guy they want, so I kind of have taken a liking to them. … Right now, this is my home."
Meanwhile, the Redskins acquired another young wideout with great speed, Patrick Johnson, who signed a one-year deal. It was believed to be for around the minimum ($530,000). Johnson is expected compete with Cliff Russell, a speed receiver who spent 2002 on injured reserve, and Darnerien McCants for playing time.
"There really wasn't too much [they had] to sell to me," Johnson said. "I haven't really fit in on the other teams [Baltimore and Jacksonville] I've played for in the NFL. I figured at this point it would really help to get in an offense that likes to throw the ball."
Johnson, 26, caught 29 balls for the Ravens in 1999 but just nine for the Jaguars last season. He was the Redskins' 10th acquisition since the signing and trading period began Feb. 28, and the club is expected to get an 11th today when Green Bay passes on matching Washington's offer for safety Matt Bowen, another restricted free agent. Compensation for Bowen is a sixth-round pick.
Seven of Washington's acquisitions so far have been on offense, which will boost expectations for second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey. Despite starting just five games as a rookie and the Redskins' acquisition of talented Rob Johnson as his backup, he isn't worried about any pressure.
"I wouldn't say it's pressure," Ramsey said. "I think we're all competitors, and we all want to win. More than it puts pressure on me, it gives me confidence that they feel I'm the guy to bring this along. They're giving me tools to help me help this team be successful. … I'm going to do whatever it takes for us to win and play well."
Coles' offer sheet includes a $13million signing bonus, which would be the most ever paid by Washington. That initial payout puts Coles, 25, among the NFL's highest-paid receivers. To compare, 2001 All-Pro David Boston just signed a deal with San Diego that guarantees him less about $12million over the next two years.
The Jets don't seem to consider Coles at that level. Their recent offer reportedly included a $6million signing bonus and averaged about $3million a season. He said he still doesn't fully understand their mentality.
"That's something I don't know," Coles said. "I thought I was a pretty good receiver for the team. Obviously they felt differently about my abilities and what I was capable of doing. I felt like I was the guy on that football team, and I felt like I should have been paid like that.
"Maybe they felt like they could lowball me and nobody would come after me because they put the tender on me. Obviously it didn't work."
Still, Washington clearly is paying a premium for Coles. It's not unexpected in fact, it's all but necessary to pry a restricted free agent from his current team. Up for debate is whether the Redskins are overpaying.
In terms of compensation a first-round pick the deal isn't bad. The Redskins were looking to trade up to draft Michigan State's Charles Rogers or Miami's Andre Johnson. Doing so would have meant parting with their first-round pick and something else of value (say, the second-rounder or cornerback Fred Smoot). And Rogers or Johnson would have gotten a deal almost as lucrative up front and possibly richer after earning escalators and incentives.
That said, some talent evaluators feel Coles doesn't deserve to be paid like one of the NFL's premier wideouts. They say he doesn't force an opponent to gear their whole defense toward stopping him, as Boston does. Boston, however, was signed at somewhat of a discount because he recently pleaded no contest to two counts of driving under the influence.
Coles has some dubious off-field instances in his past, the key one being the $391 discount he and fellow Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick got on some clothing at Dillard's in 1999. Coles, then a senior, was kicked off the team because he already was on probation because of previous academic and legal problems.
However, some people around the NFL yesterday said Coles is far less of a risk than Boston. They consider Coles to be a bright individual, one who learned his lesson in college and since has stayed out of trouble.
Coles is solidly built at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds. He was reputed to be the fastest person in the 2000 draft, having run the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds at Florida State. Last year he blossomed, catching 89 passes for 1,264 yards and five touchdowns. His speed is expected to help free up Washington wideout Rod Gardner, who is well-built (6-2, 217) but not blazing fast.
The Redskins' third restricted offer sheet is to Jets return man Chad Morton, and the current feeling is that New York will match. Although the signing bonus is high, its cap figures for the first three years are not. And Washington would surrender only a fifth-round pick in return.
The Redskins have worked out unrestricted return man Jermaine Lewis and are expected to take a run at him if Morton doesn't sign. The club's only other needs appear to be reserves, such as at defensive tackle and perhaps offensive tackle, though it could sign a new punter.
The cap remains a concern. The latest moves will force at least one contract restructuring; the club already has made two: tackle Chris Samuels and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Defensive end Renaldo Wynn appeared to be next in line (for a $1.2million savings), but as of last night nothing had happened.
"Whatever they need, I'm ready to do," Wynn said earlier in the day. "I'm a part of this team, and I'm all about helping it to get better in whatever way I can."
Regardless of Wynn, the Redskins probably are at the point where they must redo linebacker LaVar Arrington's deal. According to some who specialize in cap management, that might not be the best move. Arrington's contract offers huge potential short-term savings, but it's so big that he could be cut next year or the year after at which point the savings would come due.
Note The Redskins released kicker Jose Cortez, who had mixed results in a late-season stint. He became expendable when they signed John Hall.

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