Sunday, February 27, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — At noon yesterday, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs sought to douse the red-hot Laveranues Coles trade rumors by saying a deal back to the New York Jets for Santana Moss was “not very likely.” By the end of the day, sources who had been confident about the trade Friday were feeling it wouldn’t happen.

The seeming collapse was likely related to Coles’ ailing toe and/or the salary-cap implications of a trade for both teams.

Coles, who has asked to be cut because of his unhappiness with Washington’s conservative offense, likely would welcome a reunion with Jets coach Herman Edwards and quarterback Chad Pennington. Edwards remains a fan of his former starter. However, Gibbs emphasized the difficulties of trades in the salary-cap era.

“Laveranues is a very valuable guy,” Gibbs said. “If we can work something out with somebody, that would be fine. If not, he’ll probably remain a Redskin. He’s very valuable. We think we would have to have some real value [in return to do a deal].”

Washington thought so highly of Coles two years ago that it gave him a seven-year, $35million contract — including a $13million bonus — to leave New York as a restricted free agent. Gibbs, who wasn’t with the Redskins then, believes Coles won’t be a negative influence on the team if he stays put.

“Laveranues and I have had really good talks,” Gibbs said. “He understands how I feel, and I understand how he feels. It’s one of those things in life you work through.”

Although Coles’ last three seasons have been more prolific than Moss’ best year, the former’s ability to get downfield has plummeted since he injured his big toe early in 2003. Coles has averaged just 11.8 yards on 149 catches over the last 29 games.

Moss, who also would fill a void for the Redskins on punt returns, caught just 45 passes last year but averaged 18.6 yards.

Coles had a cortisone shot in the toe in December and while he reported relief from the pain, his yardage actually slipped to 8.8.

Gibbs said that Coles “feels great about [the toe] right now.” The coach declined to answer whether a potential trade partner would be permitted to give Coles a physical, other than acknowledging “whatever happens, both teams would have to be happy with it.”

Coles has a $5million deferred signing bonus due April1. However, if the Redskins don’t trade Coles by Wednesday’s start of the NFL year, any give-back of the bonus wouldn’t give the club any salary cap relief until 2006 and make moving the receiver less appealing.

The Redskins couldn’t absorb a $5million salary cap hit without restructuring Chris Samuels’ contract. Jimmy Sexton, the agent for the two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle, was scheduled to meet with Gibbs, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, vice president for player personnel Vinny Cerrato and salary-cap manager Eric Shaffer here at the scouting combine in hopes of reducing the $7.4 million levy against the 2005 cap while giving Samuels more cash immediately.

Chicago fell out of the Coles hunt by signing receiver Muhsin Muhammad early yesterday, less than a day after he had been cut by Carolina. Gibbs strongly shot down the idea of Coles moving to NFC East rival Dallas. Sources said Baltimore, which had been believed to be interested, has not contacted the Redskins about Coles.

Although Baltimore, Atlanta and Tampa Bay apparently are interested in acquiring receiver Rod Gardner, whom Washington has given permission to seek a trade, Gibbs said there was no news on that front.

As for the rest of the Redskins’ pressing contract issues — trying to retain middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and cornerback Fred Smoot and tender their six restricted free agents and three exclusive rights players by Wednesday’s start of the signing period — Gibbs remains optimistic. The coach also is hopeful that the Redskins can fill their main holes via free agency — although with less of a splash than usual because they believe they have fewer needs — leaving the draft to finding backup players.

“It’s a lot,” Gibbs acknowledged. “You get curveballs thrown. We have a good game plan and we’ll see what happens. We’re doing everything we can to get [Pierce signed]. Freddy came in last week and had a great talk with Dan and myself. The defensive coaches think a lot of him, and we’re working hard [on keeping him].”

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