- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The Washington Redskins are expected to obtain coveted wide receiver Laveranues Coles today, but a slim chance of the New York Jets matching his offer sheet still seemed to exist last night.

The Jets have until 4 p.m. today to officially make their decision. Yesterday they continued their exhaustive search for potential replacements, hoping to find an alternative to matching the Redskins' blockbuster seven-year, $35 million proposal.

New York turned its attention last night to Curtis Conway, a talented 10-year veteran who was cut by San Diego. Earlier in the day a deal to sign San Francisco's Tai Streets, a promising restricted free agent, fell apart over compensation.

Meanwhile, Redskins defensive coordinator George Edwards said he plans to use linebacker LaVar Arrington "a lot less" as a third-down defensive end next season, though there still will be times when Arrington rushes from a three-point stance.

"We want to use his rush ability, but we also don't want to leave him in one spot," Edwards said. "He did some good things [as a defensive end]. But the thing with his size, when you leave him there, there starts to be some wear and tear."

Arrington's altered role represents Edwards' first significant departure from the scheme Marvin Lewis ran last season. Edwards, the Redskins' fifth defensive coordinator in as many years, has stressed since his promotion in January that he would maintain continuity.

Arrington, 24, called the physical toll the worst part of playing defensive end, a role that left him visibly frustrated at times. In his opinion, Lewis didn't take advantage of his talents even if he broadened them somewhat.

"I adjusted, [so] now it shouldn't be so bad it shouldn't be such a traumatic experience to play defensive end on a limited basis this year," Arrington said. "I'm pretty sure I'll be doing a lot more moving around and being able to make plays. That's what they brought me here for, and I think I finally have a scheme that will allow me to do those things."

Edwards estimated Arrington played more positions than any other Redskins defender last season. Besides manning his strong-side linebacker spot in the base package and left defensive end in the nickel set, Arrington had other roles in specialty schemes (or "sub-packages").

Lewis insisted on Arrington as a third-down end because the young linebacker wouldn't "embrace the intricacies of playing coverage on third down." Edwards expressed none of Lewis' hesitancy to use Arrington in coverage, though the new coordinator didn't get too detailed in his plans for the two-time Pro Bowl starter.

"We don't want to let people know where he's coming from," Edwards said.

Coles, 25, is a fast, young and productive receiver who might be the key pickup in Washington's extremely busy offseason. He caught 89 passes for 1,264 yards and five touchdowns last season, and the Redskins see him as a perfect fit for coach Steve Spurrier's offense and a good bet to free up current starter Rod Gardner.

The Redskins' first-round pick (13th overall) would go to the Jets as compensation, but it's not seen as a bad price. Washington otherwise would look to trade up in the first round to grab one of the draft's premier wideouts, then pay a contract similar to Coles' and likely get less first-year production.

Washington's initial surge in free agency would be nearly complete with Coles aboard. The Redskins still hope to obtain Raghib "Rocket" Ismail as a No. 3 receiver and mentor for a young corps. Otherwise, the team is starting to head into draft mode, planning to fill its remaining holes after the April 26-27 draft.

Ismail, for his part, is reconsidering his recent decision to retire. Last summer's neck injury initially was said to be his motivation for retiring, but NFL sources said concern about moving his family was a stronger factor. It was unclear yesterday when Ismail would finalize his decision.

Wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who visited Washington at one point and was strongly considered, appeared close to a deal last night with Carolina.

Punter Tom Tupa is another possible pre-draft target of the Redskins. But Washington likely will wait on the positions of kick returner and backup defensive tackle, because one of those needs could be filled in the draft's early rounds.

Kick returner Jermaine Lewis has been one of Washington's targets, but the club doesn't think he's worth the price he is asking. The Redskins' best bet for a return man now seems to be in the draft.

There continued to be no sign of when Washington would get final word on kick returner Chad Morton. The NFL Players Association disputed the Jets' match of Morton's offer sheet, saying that New York should have been required to match the void clause. A hearing was expected within 10 days (of last Thursday), but the dispute still wasn't filed with the NFL as of yesterday.

The NFLPA last week considered an outright award of Morton to Washington a legitimate possibility, but several NFL sources since have said the chances of the Redskins getting Morton are low.

Another uncertain matter is the Redskins' potential penalty for agreeing to an offer sheet with Coles at least three days before signing him. A source said the NFL is considering penalizing the Redskins a first-round pick, but most people familiar with the situation believe a less significant penalty would be levied.

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