- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

The New York Jets say they were ready to match any offer for wide receiver Laveranues Coles just not that of the Washington Redskins.
Jets general manager Terry Bradway yesterday said the Redskins paid Coles more than the player sought, and thus New York had no choice but to pass on matching the blockbuster seven-year, $35million offer sheet.
Early winter talks with agent Roosevelt Barnes left the Jets thinking they could, if compelled, pay Coles' maximum contract. So New York took a calculated gamble and tendered Coles for $1.3million, which requires a first-round pick as compensation, rather than $1.8million, which commands first- and third-rounders.
"We felt that if we got backed into a corner, we could have matched," Bradway said in a conference call. "Little did we know that out of the blue an offer would come like Laveranues got. It's extremely rare that a team pays more than a player asks. We did not expect that to happen."
Bradway also said the Redskins paid more than was sought by guard Randy Thomas, another 2002 Jet/2003 Redskin.
"[Coles] wasn't the only instance it happened," Bradway said. "It also happened with Randy Thomas."
Such sentiments mean little to the Redskins. In Coles, they believe they got a premium player perhaps the most important of the dozen they've acquired in less than three weeks of free agency at the right price.
"We feel like Laveranues is one of the best receivers in the league," Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said.
Coles will start opposite third-year receiver Rod Gardner, giving Washington a young (both are 25) and promising starting duo. Gardner already has dubbed the pair the Jacksonville Connection because they grew up in the same Florida neighborhood and competed at rival high schools.
Although Coles gets a $13million signing bonus the largest in Redskins history the club believes only a trade up in next month's draft would have netted a player close to his caliber. That would have meant losing trade bait (another early pick or a player), paying a similarly sized contract and risking a rookie's learning curve.
Personnel director Vinny Cerrato said there was "no guesswork" in surrendering the 13th overall pick for Coles.
"With the 13th pick, you're hoping the guy can come in and contribute," Cerrato said. "With this guy, you know he can."
The Jets are among the doubters who say Coles, a player who blossomed in their system, simply isn't worth that kind of money. Bradway called it "an easy decision and a hard decision" easy because of the money, hard because of the player.
"Is one player going to come in and replace Laveranues? I can't say that," Bradway said. "We'll have to pick up those 89 catches [he had last season]."
But he added: "We didn't think that's the value. Don't get me wrong. Laveranues is a good player. But there's been less than 10 players in the history of the NFL that have received a $13million signing bonus. If [Washington] wasn't here, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Cerrato contended that Coles' contract calls for less money on an annual basis ($5million) than the one Peerless Price recently signed with Atlanta (about $5.7million) and that the Redskins had Coles rated higher.
"Did we overpay? No," Cerrato said. "If we had paid him less, they would have matched the contract."
Cerrato also made a point of saying the Redskins would not have surrendered first- and third-round picks for Coles disputing Bradway's speculation that even a higher tender wouldn't have dissuaded Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
The overhaul of the Redskins' offense is virtually complete with Coles. Also added in recent weeks were running back Trung Canidate, three new guards (including Thomas), wide receiver Patrick Johnson and backup quarterback Rob Johnson. Washington hopes to sign wide receiver Raghib Ismail in coming days and then look ahead to the draft.
The influx of new faces means big things are expected of Spurrier. The Fun'n' Gun stumbled to the NFL's No.20 ranking last season as Spurrier adapted to the pros and shuffled personnel left over from Marty Schottenheimer's run-based attack. Now the coach ostensibly has the manpower to thrive.
Second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey remains the big question. As a rookie he started five games, compiling a mediocre rating of 71.8 (just ahead of Danny Wuerffel's 70.9 and just behind Shane Matthews' 72.6) among the Redskins' trio.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Ramsey, the Redskins have focused their financial resources on winning this year. The Coles deal forced them to restructure linebacker LaVar Arrington's contract, a move that could mean tough decisions next year.
But the Redskins believe all their pickups have fit within the NFL's conventional wisdom of three-year plans.
"What we're saying is that we're trying to improve this football team, and we think [Coles] improves our football team," Cerrato said. "And from everything I understand, we can keep this team together for three years."
The Jets think keeping Coles would have compromised their long-range plans. Bradway said it would have been tough to retain key young players particularly quarterback Chad Pennington and defensive end John Abraham and make vital additions in coming years.
"You never want to lose a good football player, but we feel this is the best decision for this football team in the short term and long term," Bradway said. "We were very concerned about a lack of flexibility in the future."
The two philosophies will clash in the NFL's season opener, a Sept.4 Thursday night game. This offseason Washington has snatched three former Jets (Coles, Thomas and kicker John Hall) and signed another to an offer sheet (kick returner Chad Morton).
Bradway declined comment on the investigation into whether Washington took too long between agreeing to a deal and signing Coles. The Jets prompted the query, saying the Redskins' agreement March9 and offer sheet three days later last Wednesday night violated league rules.
"That's out of our hands," Bradway said. "I have no comment on that. That's between the NFL and the Redskins."
There remains no indication of when the dispute will be resolved. NFL officials, in a teleconference regarding next week's league meetings, declined comment.

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