- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

Though the NFL Players Association has filed a grievance over the status of restricted free agent Chad Morton, it appears unlikely that the speedy kick returner will be awarded to the Washington Redskins.
The NFLPA is attempting to take its case to an impartial arbitrator, but the date and place for such a hearing had not been determined as of last night. If the case does go to arbitration, lawyers for the players union will argue that Morton should be the property of the Redskins, while lawyers for the NFL's management council argue that Morton should remain with the New York Jets.
NFL sources said yesterday it is unlikely the arbitrator would hand down a ruling that would award Morton to Washington without first giving New York the chance to match the Redskins' five-year, $8million offer sheet for the restricted free agent. If presented with such an opportunity, the Jets are widely expected to match the offer.
Questions over Morton's status arose Thursday following the Jets' announcement that they were matching the Redskins' offer. Morton's availability appeared to be a dead issue at that point, and Washington was prepared to pursue other free agent options, most notably veteran return man Jermaine Lewis.
But the NFLPA, after consultation with Morton agent Leigh Steinberg, elected to challenge New York's position, claiming that the Jets did not match all of the "principal terms" of the Redskins' offer sheet.
Washington's offer sheet included a provision that allowed Morton to void the final two years of his contract. Such provisions are typically added as incentives for the targeted player. The player then has the freedom to become a free agent within a few years (in this case, three), while the club has the flexibility to spread out salary cap money over the entire length of the contract (in this case, five years).
At issue is whether the Jets were required to include the same void provision in their matching of the contract. The NFL management council says they were not because voids are not considered "principal terms" of an offer sheet.
The NFLPA disagrees and wants the opportunity to present its case before the arbitrator. According to Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, the arbitrator could make any of three potential rulings:
cHe could side with the league, agree that voids do not need to be matched by opposing clubs and rule that the Jets have retained possession of Morton.
He could side fully with the union, determine that voids are considered "principal terms" and rule that New York did not adequately match Washington's offer sheet for Morton, making him a Redskin.
Or he could side to a lesser extent with the union, determine that voids are considered "principal terms" but rule that the Jets be given an opportunity to match Washington's offer sheet completely. New York then would include the voids and retain Morton or simply allow him to leave for Washington.
Of the three possible rulings, NFL sources say awarding Morton outright to the Redskins is unlikely. And if given the opportunity, the Jets are expected to match the offer sheet completely and retain Morton. New York general manager Terry Bradway hinted to reporters Thursday that his team is willing to include the void in its final offer.
Unable to do much but wait for a resolution, the Redskins who had nothing to do with the union's grievance are beginning to look elsewhere for a return man. Washington already had accepted the loss of Morton when the Jets matched the offer sheet on Thursday.
The Redskins met with Lewis last Friday, establishing the former Baltimore Ravens receiver/returner as their principal backup option if the Morton deal were to fall through.
Lewis still remains the top choice of some within the organization, but he has met with several other teams over the last two weeks and has an offer on the table from the Ravens.
Meanwhile, though NFL sources said the league is investigating the Redskins' offer sheet for receiver Laveranues Coles, it is unlikely the club could be found guilty of any wrongdoing.
Coles, another restricted free agent from the Jets, agreed in principle to a seven-year, $35million offer sheet with Washington on Sunday night but did not officially sign it until Wednesday after the Redskins had cleared up more than $2 million in cap space.
The Jets maintain that by reaching an agreement with Coles three days before formally submitting the offer sheet to the NFL, Washington violated league rules. The Redskins, however, insist that they did nothing improper and that the deal was not completed until Wednesday.
"Some parameters were set, but no agreement was reached Sunday night," Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said. "Laveranues Coles himself said a lot of things about reaching an agreement on Sunday and on Monday. We never said anything [until the offer sheet was signed on Wednesday]."
Amid yesterday's uncertainty over the status of Morton and Coles, there was one bit of definitive news for the Redskins. Free agent quarterback Shane Matthews, last season's opening day starter, signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Redskins and Bucs have essentially exchanged backup quarterbacks; Washington signed veteran Rob Johnson last week to play behind starter Patrick Ramsey.

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