- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles held off signing Washington's blockbuster offer sheet yesterday while the Redskins maneuvered for salary cap space, NFL sources said. A team must have room for a player's first-year cap figure before signing him to an offer sheet.
There were strong indications the Redskins were looking to linebacker LaVar Arrington for cap space, even though his cap figures in coming years already are dangerously high. A restructuring would free up space for this season but might accelerate his release in a year or two.
Agent Roosevelt Barnes journeyed to Washington to work out the details of Coles' offer sheet. There was no indication the basic parameters (seven years, $35million with a $13million signing bonus) would change. An NFL source said Coles was expected to sign the offer sheet within the "next 48 hours."
Once he does, the New York Jets will have seven days to decide whether to match the proposal or accept the Redskins' first-round pick (13th overall) as compensation.
Virtually no one in the league believes New York will match, and Coles even said the Jets "were pretty much saying goodbye" when he spoke to Mike Tannenbaum, their assistant general manager, in the morning.
"I'm sure they're going to go through their process," Coles, already holding a No.80 Redskins jersey, said at Redskin Park before returning to his offseason home in Jacksonville, Fla. "But for the most part, I think they were pretty much parting ways."
Thus Washington was starting to imagine life with Coles. One of the happiest Redskins was wide receiver Rod Gardner, who would team with Coles after facing him repeatedly in high school in Jacksonville. Gardner called the prospective starting duo the "Jacksonville Connection."
"We've always been good friends," Gardner said by phone. "You can't beat it two guys from Jacksonville, playing on the same team, playing the same position, trying to get better."
Gardner starred at quarterback for Raines High while Coles piled up nearly 5,000 yards as a running back for Ribault High. Both then played in the ACC; a redshirt kept Gardner at Clemson a year longer than Coles was at Florida State. Now they seek to develop (both are only 25, their birthdays a little more than two months apart) into one of the NFL's premier duos.
"I'm excited about getting the opportunity to work with him," Coles said. "I think we can make each other better."
A number of NFL talent evaluators agree. Some have said in recent years that the only thing the tall, physical Gardner lacked was a speedy complement. Derrius Thompson who left to sign with the Dolphins as a free agent was solid last season, especially at the end of the year, but doesn't have great speed.
Coles does. Although some debate whether he can be a dominant receiver like David Boston or Randy Moss, teams have to respect his speed, toughness and skill.
"Speed, quickness, explosion after the catch all the things he can do are things the guys we had last year weren't as good at," Redskins receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. "It's a whole new dimension, a whole new game with him out there."
Gardner was unfazed by the prospect of being challenged as Washington's No.1 receiver. He noted that Oakland has Tim Brown and Jerry Rice and no one bothers to call one No.1 and the other No.2. He sees a similar situation here and it should be noted that coach Steve Spurrier does not think in rigid No.1-No.2 terms.
"How can you say who's number one at this point?" Gardner said. "The games will determine that, who they throw the ball to the most."
Coles adds to the Redskins' bevy of deep threats. The club signed Patrick Johnson on Monday and returns its 2002 third-round pick, Cliff Russell, whom Spurrier Jr. said is "95 percent" rehabilitated from last year's torn ACL. All three fit the Fun 'n' Gun, which dominated the college game, but last year ranked 20th in the NFL.
However, the price Washington is paying for Coles is high both in terms of his contract and what the deal is forcing in terms of the cap.
The Redskins had only about $500,000 of cap space yesterday and signing Coles would have required at least $1.5million more. Restructuring defensive end Renaldo Wynn freed up $1.2million of potential savings. Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson is a possible source of cap room, but Washington hadn't done anything as of late afternoon yesterday and might not want to until after June1, when it would have leverage on Wilkinson.
That left Arrington. He offers plenty of potential savings (in excess of $4million) but already has huge cap figures in 2004 ($8.8million) and 2005 (more than $10million). And those figures could grow based on his play next season. Restructuring his contract would take cap space out of 2003 and put it into 2004 and beyond, which could force Washington to part with one of its cornerstone players.
In other words, reworking Arrington's deal might be a sign the Redskins are starting to take away from their future to win now. To date, most of Washington's frenetic activity in the market has been modest, and thus has drawn little criticism from an economic standpoint.

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